Find the Helpers
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Here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic. How do we get through it? For starters, we find the helpers. This week, we meet host Andy Slavitt and his teenage son Zach, recording from their studio (er, home office) in Minneapolis. In many respects, the moment the NBA suspended its season is the moment America realized COVID-19 was a real threat. So for his first episode, Andy is joined by Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank superstar. Mark and Andy issue a call to action for everyone to help first and ask questions later and talk candidly about COVID-19’s impact on small businesses, the stock market, hospitals, and basketball.
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- https://bit.ly/2wSZSwD (The NIAID / Dr. Fauci)
[00:01] Mark Cuban: We’re paying them as if the Mavs games are taking place. You know, they’re not going to miss a paycheck at all. And sometimes people ask what should they do? And what I’ve told them is, if you can afford it, not only do you need to keep your workers on payroll, but go find some others that have been laid off, furloughed, whatever it may be, and give them some work.
[00:22] Andy Slavitt: Hi, I’m Andy Slavitt, and this is the very first episode of In the Bubble. So I’m picturing you now, maybe sitting around with your families in your house, listening as you’re grading your kid’s home school paper, running at a modified treadmill, or back and forth wall-to-wall across your apartment. Maybe you’re having a glass of wine after a long day of wearing pajamas. Or maybe you’re a nurse and you’ve been working all day, and are staying away from your family, and you’re worried you’re gonna get sick. Or maybe you’re in a job where you’re required to interact with people while others stay home. Or someone in your family isn’t feeling well and you’re a little worried.
[01:06] Andy Slavitt: The one thing I know is that your routine has most likely been interrupted. Whatever you’re doing today, it’s likely not what you thought you’d be doing a month ago. And every time you turn on the news, which I hope you’re not doing all the time, it feels like the world has turned into a big-budget movie thriller. Our life in the Slavitt household has definitely had its routine broken, too. First of all, I’m not go to the office every day. I’m staying home. My wife Lana, who many of you may know or know of, is keeping us all together, thinking about the necessities, how we get through things. Food, cleanliness, happiness, safety. Our two sons are a college and a high school senior. Their lives are changed, too. They’re missing some milestones they’ve been looking forward to for a long time, like graduations for both of them, since they’re both seniors. Like the basketball game Zach had been basically practicing for his entire life that got canceled.
[02:08] Andy Slavitt: Prom. And for our older one, Cal, the job market just disappeared on him. So you’ll hear from them on this show. Zach is actually our producer. Say hi, Zach.
[02:20] Zach Slavitt: Hi.
[02:21] Andy Slavitt: And he’s also an analytical force to be reckoned with. He’s feeding me data about what’s going on with the virus in all parts of the world and all kinds of statistics. You’ll see why I love spending time with him on this show. But what is In the Bubble about? I want to take a shot at talking to you about what’s going on with the pandemic in a family-friendly way. Simple as that. A few years ago, when I was in the Obama administration, someone suggested that I get on this thing called Twitter, and they then showed me how. They then allowed me to do something which I’m sure they were granted everyday since. And that is keep the password. But since then, I promised myself that as a person with the privilege of a lot of access to a lot of people, I would care more about how to be a helper than I would about being an insider. And so I generally tend to tweet pretty bluntly, pretty directly, whatever I see and think that that will be helpful to people. And I’ve asked a bunch of really interesting people I know, and even some that I don’t, if they’d be on this podcast. And everyone has said yes.
[03:30] Andy Slavitt: So what’s going on? Without throwing a bunch of data at you, here’s what’s going on in a nutshell. The world is seeing something that is referred to as a novel virus. And by novel, it just means we haven’t seen it before, which means our bodies don’t have immunity to it. I don’t care if you’re a triathlete or an iron man, your body can’t fight this virus. It’s also very contagious, much more contagious than the flu, passes on surfaces, can easily transmit from one person to another. And in fact, 80 percent of people now who get the Coronavirus don’t know where they got it from. So that’s bad. It’s a bad feature in a virus that it’s very catchy, and it’s actually even more of a bad thing that people are often asymptomatic. Zach showed me some data which show that in some countries half the people who have the virus are asymptomatic. That means people are passing without knowing it. And the average person is passing it to between 2 and 3 people. It’s also much more lethal than the flu in certain populations. And there’s a few populations that I am particularly worried about, and you should be, too. Seniors, people over 80 or even over 70 are problematic. And if you live with one of those people, or one of those people as a loved one who is in a nursing home or hospital or living somewhere else, you ought to be taking extra care to make sure that they don’t get exposed.
[04:55] Andy Slavitt: The other kind of people that are in trouble and that this is lethal for are people who have compromised immune systems. Chronic conditions like diabetes or other things. And believe me, those people are very worried. There’s a lot of people who live lives as close to the way that everyone else does, but they have some disability, and that disability makes them especially vulnerable. So the best thing you can do, really, if you care about all these people — and I know you do — is to stay home. I was part of launching a campaign called #StayHome. That’s really important. Also protecting vulnerable populations. And then finally, this is a moment when there’s a fair amount of uncertainty, anxiety and economic pain. And you may be focusing on one or more of those three things. And on this podcast, we’re not going to be able to rid you of this uncertainty. I do think what often helps with anxiety is knowing that you’re not going through things alone. In the economic pain, I think the question is very much how temporary is it? How long will this last? And will we be able to come back from it? And what’s our best path back from it? So many days, it’s easy to sit around and focus on those things, the uncertainty, the anxiety or the economic pain. But there’s also another way that I choose to focus on this, and that is that we are being asked to make a sacrifice.
[06:22] Andy Slavitt: I’m 53 years old. My generation, even the generation older than mine, and certainly generations younger than mine, have never really been asked to make a sacrifice the way the World War II generation did. I think about that when I go to the store, and if they’re out of my favorite brand or something and I realize just how accustomed we all are to having everything we want, every type of thing we want, exactly when we want it. And I have a feeling in a couple of months we won’t be thinking about those things quite as much, or they won’t be quite as important. And there’s a lot of MacGyver-ing going on. So when looked at that way, I really look at this as incredibly meaningful, because we’re all going to come through this — I think we’re going to look back and wonder what we did during this period of time. Did we help people? As bad as we have it, are there other people in our communities that have it even worse? We did some simple math, Zach and I, the other day, and we calculated that if you’re the average person who has the virus, and is asymptomatic, and chooses to go out of the house, could end up being responsible for 40 lives lost without even knowing it. But here’s the thing. As terrible as that sounds, the reverse is also true. If you stay home, if you socially isolate for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, you can save 40 lives. I don’t know a single person that wouldn’t take on some measure of sacrifice to save 40 lives. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t do it for four lives, four people’s moms, even if they’re people you never heard of.
[07:56] Andy Slavitt: But I want to make sure that we’re also prepared for what’s to come here in April 2020, which could be among the worst months in American history. The images we’ll see on TV. The number of people who lose their lives. The people we know personally. It’s gonna be profoundly upsetting and it’s gonna be profoundly sad. So be there for each other. Understand that this is gonna be an incredibly difficult period, but we’re all going to be going through this together. I saw the new Mr. Rogers movie recently. You also remember what movies are, right? And there was a sentence in it that struck me, and it’s one that I think is probably known to many of you. And he says, “when I was a boy and I saw scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And that movie, after I heard that line, it made me realize that what I want to be, all I want to be, is a helper. All of my time being an entrepreneur, a public servant, a business person leading the healthcare.gov turnaround, a founder of a major nonprofit, an investor in underserved communities. I realize what I was really aspiring for. and that’s just to be a helper. I think we need that in this time. I don’t care who you are. And I want to be helped, too. I want to be helped by going through all this together because there’s no monopoly on getting through tough times.
[09:37] Andy Slavitt: So I hope that this podcast does serve that purpose in some form. Now it’s commercial time and our commercials are brought to you from Zach.
[09:50] Zach Slavitt: If you’re enjoying this content, please help us continue to make it. Go to LemonadaMedia.com/IntheBubble to support us on Patreon. You’ll get exclusive access to bonus content, and free or discounted swag. I don’t want to say “swag.” You’ll get exclusive access to bonus content and free or discounted merch, but best of all, you’ll get a chance to help financially support the making of this show, and any profits that my dad and I make will go to the Covid Relief Fund.
[10:21] Andy Slavitt: Great job on the ad, Zach. If you want somewhere to go just to get some basic questions answered in an informed way, check out whileathome.org. You’ll find resources on getting testing for Covid-19. Information about grants and loans, volunteering and support if you’re trying to figure out how to help. From activist, my friend, DeRay McKesson, and the While at Home team, co check that out. And one more thing: take the census.
[11:00] Andy Slavitt: I got to know Mark Cuban a few years ago. He was interested in health care and I was interested in basketball. And I will admit that if you don’t like basketball, you should understand that this show’s gonna have a little bit of basketball in it, because in our house, we really like basketball. But basketball wasn’t the only reason Zach and I thought Mark would be a good first guest. Yes, he’s kind of an iconic guy. Got his TV show, Shark Tank. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks. But Mark’s also a guy who once drove me 45 minutes out of his way to the airport. Mark’s a guy who answers his own texts and emails. So why is he our first guest? Well, in many respects, I think the moment that the NBA decided that it was going to suspend its season was a wake-up moment for many of us. I remember where I was, and I think it was a oh-this-is-real moment. Things that we’re used to, things that distract us, things that are a big part of our lives, were disappearing right in front of us. Mark’s also really plugged in to small businesses. He invested in a lot of them on Shark Tank. And I think he sees the impact on the economy, not just on large businesses, but also on small ones. But what makes Mark an important person in the context of the Coronavirus is actually something that happened right after the virus outbreak. People were focused on the NBA, the NBA players, and Mark was the first employer, at least the first person that I knew of, before anybody knew how bad this would be or how long it would last, to say that all the people in the Mavericks organization, all the people that were dependent upon basketball for their jobs, he was going to make sure continued to get a paycheck.
[12:44] Andy Slavitt: And I think that set a watermark early on for how hopefully people will respond with caring and love and support during this time. So here’s Mark. I hope you enjoy.
[13:04] Andy Slavitt: Mark Cuban, welcome to In the Bubble. You are our first podcast guest, and I’m so grateful you joined us.
[13:11] Mark Cuban: Don’t screw it up, Andy.
[13:13] Andy Slavitt: OK. There’s a lot of reasons to talk to you, Mark, about what we’re doing here, which is trying to give people an outlet as families to understand what’s going on with Coronavirus, how they should be reacting to it. And, you know, you are relevant to this story in so many different ways. Obviously, the NBA has a pivotal role to play here in the story. After that, Rudy Gobert news broke, I remember that I was watching my producer here, Zach, play a basketball game. And I sat back in the crowd and someone said to me, “hey, the NBA season just got suspended.” And those were words I didn’t really understand. What was your reaction?
[13:50] Mark Cuban: I was stunned. You know, before the game, I had a meeting with the players and the coaches in the locker room. And Luka asked me what I thought the chances are that the season would be suspended or canceled. Because he had seen what was going on in Europe with his friends. And I was like 5, 10 percent at the outside, but I don’t really think there’s a chance. And then, you know, halfway or whatever it is through the third quarter of that night, boom, I got the text and it was like, “oh, my goodness.” And obviously, my stunned response has turned into a meme as seen everywhere.
[14:20] Andy Slavitt: Yeah, we saw that. And you spoke for the country, because I think up until that point, Covid-19 was something that was far away. It was distant. And Adam Silver made a decision. How do you look at that decision in retrospect?
[14:35] Mark Cuban: Right on. The exact right thing to do.
[14:38] Andy Slavitt: My co-producer here is my 18-year-old son, who’s way smarter than me, and one of the things he said is, “Dad, I think Rudy Gobert has probably saved a lot of lives.” And at that point in time, you know, a lot of us were kind of pissed off at Rudy Gobert, who is the — I should explain, he’s the player that was the first player in the NBA to be diagnosed. And he was seen sort of messing around. And I think Zach’s point was this was the first sign that this thing is here, and it’s real, and our lives might not be the same.
[15:08] Mark Cuban: Yeah, no question about it. Zach is right on. I know in our locker room, once it dawned on our players that this was real, any of them could catch it, they really thought they basically were immune. Because the conversation was if you were under 30, it just wasn’t going to impact you at all. The chances of you catching it were slim. The chances of it having any severe impact were slim. And there’s Rudy catching it after fooling around and pretending it did exist. And not only did he catch it, he was showing symptoms and he wasn’t feeling so well. And so as guys talk around the NBA, it was like, look, this is not a good thing. We need to take it seriously. And then then it spread to Donovan Mitchell and other players and it just went downhill from there.
[15:48] Andy Slavitt: With guys in such physical contact at such proximity, how do you play a game when you’ve got such a contagious condition?
[15:56] Mark Cuban: You know, I’ll leave that up to the doctors and the scientists. I don’t have an answer for that. You know, the only thing I can tell you is that without question, we won’t jeopardize the safety of any of our players. And, you know, even though it’s not an analogous in hindsight, it’s an analogous from the viewpoint that in 1999, when it came to light that Magic Johnson had just retired because of AIDS, you know, there are a lot of people concerned that it was contagious. And that it could be transferred just by touching the same surfaces. And so the NBA had to go through a whole process there that we learned from. To this day, there is a thing called the infection control, which if there’s a player that has blood on the jersey, they’ll stop the game and do whatever it takes to remove the blood from the jersey. And that traces back to Magic Johnson announcing that he had had AIDS and retiring.
[16:44] Andy Slavitt: So what I’m hearing is this may become a three-point league with no nobody in the paint, everybody on the outside.
[16:50] Mark Cuban: You know, if you can shoot it, take it. I mean KP can shoot from half-court. It’s crazy. You know, when we were coming up, Andy, you know, you put your toe on the three-point line because that was your range. Now guys are shooting a foot, two feet, three feet, five feet behind the three-point line like it’s no big deal. And it’s just, you know, if you work on anything, you’re better at it.
[17:13] Andy Slavitt: I have a confession to make, for everybody who’s listening to In the Bubble who thinks of me as a health care person, you’re going to learn that I’m a big NBA fan. And I’m sure not all of the listeners are, so I’m not going to go too deep into that. But I want to talk about something using the NBA as an example, which is this idea of disruption. This sort of disruption in our life in more general terms. One day we’re going about our business and all of a sudden it comes to a screeching halt. For those of you who like the NBA, like me and like Mark, who’s got a lot invested in it, it’s a disruption to the way you’re entertained, or the way your life is rolling. But for other people, it could be something else. It could be a TV series, could be, of course, something more serious like their job or their health. But how do you think about adjusting to something that’s such a massive kind of disruption like this?
[18:08] Mark Cuban: You know, when you’re in uncertain territory or uncharted waters, you just have to be agile. You just have to deal with what comes your way. I know this is gonna sound a little bit extreme, but when we had the conversation with our kids about things changing, we’re like, look, we’ve all read The Diary of Anne Frank. And just imagine one day you’re living your life, you know. And just because you’re Jewish, all of a sudden everything just turned upside down. The Nazis come to town and you don’t have a life. You’re hiding. And if you think this is bad, just imagine, you know, my dad, who passed away a couple of years ago at 92, lived through a World War, lived through part of the Depression.
[18:46] Mark Cuban: His dad left Russia to come here because if he didn’t leave, they would exterminate his entire family. So while we’re going through disruptions, we have to put it in context. Now, that’s easy for me to say. You know, for those people who have lost their jobs and don’t know where their next paycheck is going to come from, you know, they have children and they don’t know how they’re going to feed them, it’s going to be horrific and it’s going to be difficult. And those are the people now that we have to really watch out for. The stimulus package that just came out, it was the right step in a lot of respects, but the execution is even more important than the bill. It’s going to take three weeks to get people their money. And the way things are going, who knows where we’ll be in three weeks? So I think we’re gonna have to find ways to really accelerate that.
[19:30] Andy Slavitt: I want to come back to the stimulus in a bit. But you said something which I thought was really interesting and has to do with almost the generosity that we’re seeing. And I want to talk specifically about the first move you made, which hopefully will set off a positive chain reaction with your employees. But if you were to bring that down to a personal level for people who are sitting in this situation, thinking about the fact that there are people that may be worse off, and reaching out to them and connecting with them and helping with them. Is that a good mechanism for people, you think, to manage the current situation?
[20:08] Mark Cuban: Oh, of course. I mean, look, you know, we’re all in this together. This is not 2008 where it was a financial crisis. You know, this is a viral predator and we’re all susceptible. And not only from a physical or biological perspective, but, you know, just a way of life from a planet perspective. I mean, we don’t know what comes next. And we all are facing that uncertainty. So we all have to be supportive of each other. You know, I think what you’re alluding to is, you know, right when all just happened, I made it clear that all of our hourly employees who got paid by the game would continue to get paid as if all of our games were played. Other people did a lot of the same things and then some. And so, you know, I’ll continue to be supportive of those people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck anywhere I can.
[20:57] Andy Slavitt: I want to come back and ask you about that decision in a second, because there’s other companies that I think are not making decisions like that, and they are probably good reasons for them to not do it. But it’s an important and I think tricky situation. You know, we were just not that long ago at Anne Frank’s house. And as you mentioned, which you just mentioned about that comparison, it made me think about the untapped reserves that we as humans have to be resilient, that we probably haven’t had to call on before. And I wonder if you might comment as someone who I’ve known for a little while and as someone who I’ve always felt is confident and able to manage situations, at least from the outside, how at a very personal level, people who are feeling this uncertainty can think about tapping into that?
[21:45] Mark Cuban: I wish I had a good answer for you, Andy. I don’t. I mean, everybody’s circumstances are different. You know, the way I’ve looked at it, I’ve got to try to be a role model. My wife and I’ve got to try to be role models for our children. We’ve got to make them understand exactly what’s going on in the world as best we can with imperfect information. And I think everybody is trying to figure it out for themselves. And we’ve just got to be supportive. If you’re an employer and if you can afford it at all, continue to pay your people. If you know people who have lost their jobs and their back’s against the wall. Help them if you can. Give them jobs if you can. Help be supportive. If you can’t be supportive financially. Be compassionate and supportive emotionally. We’re all facing this same predator together. We just have to do all we can to help each other.
[22:34] Andy Slavitt: Yes. I’m wondering if life was always this uncertain, it’s just that we didn’t really have to face it. And coming to grips with this uncertainty, and having it right in front of us, is an adjustment. But people may be better at dealing with uncertainty than they know. And we’re gonna test that.
[22:53] Mark Cuban: We’re facing this, and this is the literally first-world problems relative to what’s happening in Syria, relative to what happened in Sarajevo. Wars happen. You know, I mean, imagine being in Britain during World War II and all the all the bombings. And, you know, there’s just so many examples of the human spirit just rising above. Every continent has had its examples. And this is what we’re facing right now. And just like all those before us, we’ll do as best we can and try to figure out how we get to the other side.
[23:27] Andy Slavitt: That’s great perspective. And I think helpful to people. I want to turn a little bit to talk about another hat you wear, which is as an investor in small businesses. And a large portion of people in the country work for small businesses, or they’re gig workers these days. You invest a lot in them. You know how they work. You know how they’re often very fragile and often, you know, a month or two of payroll in the bank at the most. How are they going to fare? And then my second question is going to be, how are they going to recover?
[24:04] Mark Cuban: Good questions. First, you have to really be brutally honest with yourself as the CEO, as an entrepreneur, with exactly where you stand. You can’t lie to yourself. So many entrepreneurs get to where they are because you kind of blow smoke up your own tush. Just “hey, we’re the best! We’re the greatest!” You know, and we’ll figure it out. But, you know, right now you’ve got to look for every resource you can find. There’s a payroll protection program from the Small Business Administration. If you have fewer than 500 employees, you have to sign up for that. You have to. The federal government will pay for your payroll for employees making under $100,000 a year, plus rent, plus utilities, plus some other ancillary expenses. And if you promise and live up to your promise of not to fire, layoff or furlough any of your employees, you don’t have to pay it back. And so I think it was a wise move by our government to do this. But as a small business, as an entrepreneur, that’s a resource you have to take advantage.
[25:08] Mark Cuban: Part two to that, as entrepreneurs, we’re always looking at our companies and saying, you know, if only I had the time, I would do this. If only I had the time, I would do that. Now you have the time. Now is the time for you to revisit your company and look to see what you can optimize, processes you can improve, marketing you can redo, videos you can redo, content you can create. You have to take advantage of this. I know it’s difficult. Hopefully the money you get from the government will tide you through, you know, whether it’s two or three months depending on the term. And that will allow you to not only survive, but improve your business. And the other thing, you know, in talking to my Shark Tank companies, you know, everybody’s scared. Not just the people working hour-to-hour, day-to-day, but also their bosses or former bosses. And so, you know, employees have to be considerate to their employers and and vice-versa. Employers have to be considerate to their employees. Recognizing that both parties are scared. And by communicating and being transparent and being brutally honest, I think you can come out on the other side better. Now saying all that, we’re all going to have to be incredibly agile, because the only certainty is that we have no idea how things are truly going to play out. We’re all guessing. But if you have a vision, if you see something that will make your business stronger, go for it. Because when we look back in five or 10 years, there’s going to be five, 10, 20 companies that we look at and say, wow, these companies were started during the pandemic of 2020 because these entrepreneurs had a vision for something that really, if it weren’t for this reset, they would never be able to do so. There’s plenty of opportunity, but there’s going to be plenty of pain that we’re all going to have to face.
[26:51] Andy Slavitt: Going into this, we’re all struck by how relatively ill-prepared both folks are to retire. And their 401Ks are, you know, of importance to people who have them. And this is not a question that I expect you to say you know the answer to. But maybe philosophically, you know, for someone who is seeing a bear market come, and seeing their value, their 401K come down and they’re worried — maybe my first question is is this feel like a normal bear market where you would rise again and therefore be patient? Or does this feel like a different kind of bear market?
[27:30] Mark Cuban: You know, it doesn’t feel normal by any respect, but I can tell you what I’m doing with my stock holdings. I’m waiting. You know, I still have confidence that when we get to the other side, the stock market, I don’t know how long it’s going to take, will go up. And that at some point we’ll look back and say, OK, it’s higher than it was before the pandemic hit, which is what’s happened historically throughout the history of this country. I have complete optimism.
[27:56] Andy Slavitt: I love the fact that you point to our innovation and our spirit of innovation, not just because of the business element of it, because it’s so easy to see our flaws as a country. It’s easy to see how we got into this mess, and we shouldn’t have, and all of those things. But when I think about what gets us out of it, and I think about what differentially our assets are when we’re chasing an exponentially growing curve, I do think about innovation. How close a touch have you kept during the last few weeks to the biotech companies and the testing companies? Do you see promising things? Do you think our scientists, if given enough time, are going to catch up to this thing?
[28:39] Mark Cuban: Yeah, I mean, look, I’m not an expert in biotech, but I can tell you, look, when we saw Abbott announce they were going to start shipping kits, 50,000 kits a day, that allowed medical technicians to test for Covid and have a response within 15 minutes, that’s a game-changer. That’s a marriage of American ingenuity, creativity. And that’s not the end of it. To me, I have enough confidence that that’s the beginning of it. I’m sure we’ll come up with a vaccine. I’m sure we’ll come up with therapies. I’m sure those are really smart people trying to figure out ways to make it so that, you know, at worst, there’s a Covid season every year like there is a flu season. At best, it’s gone and we never see it again.
[29:23] Andy Slavitt: I want to take those two and tie it together. This idea of compliance, and doing something hard, sacrificing, staying home, even missing income and being worried, with this notion that I keep thinking of, which is just give our scientists a little bit of time. If you stay in and you feel like, what’s the path? Am I indoors? This is hard. I’ve got to listen to my kids all day. They gotta listen to me. I miss my job. But while you’re doing that, knowing that you are giving our greatest scientists and innovators a chance to catch up to this thing.
[29:57] Mark Cuban: Yeah, and it’s a tribute to those scientists and innovators, that they recognize. Now is the time. Heroes are born during FUBAR, right. When things are all messed up beyond recognition. That’s where the heroes step forward and create things, invent things, develop things that change the world. And that’s what’s needed right now. And every indication that we’ve gotten so far is that that’s what’s happening. You know, I mentioned Abbott. We’ve heard about other drugs potentially that are coming out. You know, it’s not like we’re in a situation where, oh, my goodness, it’s been three weeks. No one said anything. Oh, my goodness. It’s been four weeks. No one’s even suggested that there’s any hope. And, you know, there’s no options coming. That’s not what we’re getting at all. If anything, we kind of rush to judgment and try to hope, you know, hydroxychloroquine is going to be the ultimate this or that. And, you know, if anything, we have so much innovation coming. We may have to be a little bit more patient.
[30:54] Andy Slavitt: Yeah, I’m by the way, I’m seeing the same things, just to tell the listeners, in the conversations I’m having with scientists and biotech firms and lab companies that Mark is. And think about the fact that every smart person, entrepreneur, philanthropist, they’re all focused now on this one problem. And whatever they were doing, that was that was a moment where those folks are reached. And so I think us doing our part is just giving them the time to do their job by doing the #stayinside. I want to talk about something you raised around leadership and people emerging and the opportunity, or the obligation, on us as citizens and as leaders, people who have resources, people who have production facilities, people who have access to these things. You know, when I was in the Obama administration and I was leading a different type of turnaround, one of things that was absolutely amazing to me was I could pick up the telephone and call anybody in the country and say, “we need your help.” And 95 percent of people would answer on the first ring, before you even told them what you needed, they’d say, “I’m in.” You’re used to getting those kinds of calls from the White House. You’re someone who has stepped up. We’ve already talked about how you stepped up for your employees. Right now, we’re in a situation where the country has a lot of needs. Our healthcare workers need masks, our hospitals need ventilators. What do you think the obligation is on companies that could be helping that problem right now?
[32:27] Mark Cuban: Be good corporate citizens and do the right thing. I mean, there are lives at stake. It doesn’t matter if we’re in this pandemic, when there are lives at stake, you always put people’s lives over money. I mean, it’s not even a question. The good news is, I think 99 percent of companies are actually doing that and recognizing what’s at stake. The bad news is there’s probably a couple outliers that unfortunately are not.
[32:51] Andy Slavitt: I had a conversation with a friend late last night and I was making a point similar to the one you’re making, which is at war-time, you don’t need to get asked twice. You shouldn’t even need to be asked once. And he said companies have an obligation to their shareholders, and you can’t expect them to do things that aren’t in their shareholders’ interests. This turned into quite a heated conversation where I said that there’s certain people that they’re just not recognizing war-time and how the rules all change.
[33:21] Mark Cuban: If your customers are all dead, you have no business and you have no money for your shareholders. If your customers can’t leave the house, they can’t do business with you, if you sell physical goods, right. But you’ve got to do the right thing. And plus, remember what a shareholder is. A shareholder is a human being, too. And so if you want if you’re so concerned about your stock price. talk to your shareholders and say Mr. or Ms. Shareholder, I have to make this investment because it’s for the best interests of the United States of America. People are going to live. Would you mind giving me an extra one or two in my price-earnings ratio? Let’s just take it up from 15 to 17, which means I can reduce my earnings a little bit and the stock price stays the same. It is such an excuse when people say, well, I have this fiduciary responsibility to my shareholders. You have a fiduciary responsibility to helping people live. This is a no-exception rule. I don’t care what anybody says. If you put people’s lives versus, you know, an extra penny per share, that’s what gives capitalism a bad name.
[34:24] Andy Slavitt: Any good examples are bad examples that you’d call out. I mean, you’re someone who’s appropriately blunt when you need to be.
[34:31] Mark Cuban: I mean, look, I mean, I’ve tweeted before about 3M that I don’t think that they’ve been a good corporate citizen. I’m not saying they’ve done anything illegal. I don’t believe they have. But here we are in a situation where the idea of N95 surgical masks, which are branded and sold by 3M, and there’s other competitors as well. But we’re in a situation where a frontline health care providers can’t get masks. It’s so bad that not only are they trying to buy them overseas and often losing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars because they’re getting scammed by people knowing that this is so desperate. We’ve got calls going out for a seamstress, people working out of their homes, you know, couch factories I saw redoing their assembly line to make masks, to literally sew up individual masks so that we can provide them to frontline health care workers. Now, look, 3M deserves credit because they’re maximizing their manufacturing. They’re adding as much volume production as they can. But what they have not done is communicate. All they’ve done is try to tell us that they care. And they tried to tell us that they’re maximizing manufacturing, but they could do so much more. And most importantly, they could communicate and tell us what’s going on in the supply chain for masks.
[35:49] Mark Cuban: And let me explain that. So right now, you have all these hospitals in states trying to compete for N95 surgical masks. and even now construction masks that 3M manufactures. Now in a normal market, there’s plenty to go around. But because there’s not enough to go around, those hospitals and governments and state governments, even the federal government, are now trying to buy them on the black market. Meaning there are 3M masks that somehow, some way are getting either from foreign 3M manufacturers, or from domestic or foreign 3M-license exclusive distributors. And they’re going out the side-door, back-door, whatever, and being sold at exorbitant prices to these hospitals. It would not take a lot for 3M to say, you know what, I’m going to introduce you to my product manager for N95 surgical mask, because this person knows where every mask is made, every manufacturer, what the total production is, what the total potential capacity is. They know who every buyer is. And they can explain why we have an inefficient market here and why people are having to go out outside the traditional channels to buy these masks at a premium price. All right. We might not like what they had to say, but at least we understand what’s going on better.
[37:04] Mark Cuban: They could do even more by saying, you know what? If you forgive us from an antitrust perspective, let us work with the other manufacturer of masks now including Honeywell, Prestige Ameritech and others. And let us get a handle on the demand, so that we can try to figure out the best uses and sources of the supply that we’re creating. And oh, FEMA, we’ll work through you because we understand it’s hard to allocate to different hospitals, and you know where the hotspots are and who needs them and who doesn’t. But that will allow us to create an efficient market. And we will certainly make sure that none of our distributors, domestic or foreign, that are licensed by 3M will sell out the back door, because if we find out that they do, then we’ll terminate the exclusive distribution license. They’re not doing any of those things. And we know whatever they’re doing isn’t working because you can buy 3M-licensed masks on the black market. So they’re being sold by somebody on the black market unless maybe there’s an outside chance there are some hospitals that resell it. But I doubt that because they’re using all they can get.
[38:11] Andy Slavitt: To stick on 3M for a second, you know, normally in their business, they’re producing in N95 masks. They sell them to a variety of people. Some of them are hospitals. Some of them are not hospitals, they’re construction companies. Some of them are in the U.S. Some of them are overseas. Today with the world different, you’re right, they’ve stepped up their production. But if you look at all of those places, those masks are going through distributors. The ones that are going to the US and Europe — China makes its own — to U.S. or Europe, where they’re in desperate need and you’ve got a shortage. That’s great. But the question that I think is important to answer is, is that 100 percent of your masks? If not, why not? And in fact, if you’re selling them to countries that don’t need them because you have preexisting contracts, why aren’t we breaking them?
[39:05] Mark Cuban: I think whatever the excuse is, right, people are dying because you’re not helping the situation by communicating. If you have contracts that you can’t break, let’s talk. Because I’m willing to bet that Donald Trump will call that country, whatever it may be, the Philippines, South Korea, whatever it is, and say, you know what? You guys don’t need these. Can we buy those, or whoever the outlet is for that volume going into those other countries. Because I’m sure they’re getting aid or something or some type of relevant value from the United States that we could trade. But the fact that they’re silent is horrible, just horrible. And it’s unforgivable.
[39:45] Andy Slavitt; Well, let’s see if we can get something done about that. There’s one other way to get something done about that. And that’s something that I think people are learning about, called the Defense Production Act. The Defense Production Act allows the president to effectively force a company like — this recently happened with General Motors and ventilators — to start producing for the good of the country. And it’s really there for war-time. Would you recommend that the president use that tool in this case for mass?
[40:14] Mark Cuban: For masks, no. Because what we really need is all the manufacturers of masks to come together with the White House or FEMA, whoever it may be. And we need the hospital organizations to come together and say, here is the demand we have, by market. So in New York, it’s a hot area right now. We know that this is the volume. The president said the other day, 30,000 mass a week from a large hospital. We don’t even know what the aggregate weekly volume is from our hotspots. And if we don’t know that, how are we going to know what demand we need to fulfill or what we need to ask? This is an organizational issue. This is not simply a production issue. For all we know between 3M, Honeywell and others, there may be enough supply, particularly with some of the Chinese manufacturers coming online. So we need to find out what our demand is and organize it, because if we go and use the War Production Act, that could go askew, one. And two, we need to put in place a process so that if and when this happens again, we know how to deal with it. Because when there is a black market for any product, it doesn’t matter what it is, it thrives because of lack of information. No one knows what the right price to pay is. There’s no data from anybody. People who are buying don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to give up their sources because they need the product so so badly. You know, hospitals know that they have to overpay because they have nurses and doctors getting sick and dying trying to treat the sick and dying. And it’s a lack of information.
[41:40] Mark Cuban: That’s why I have such a problem with 3M. They know this industry better than anybody. Stand up and be a good corporate citizen and help. Help communicate. Help define the market. Help us match supply and demand. There is even a program, I think is called Fair Share, that 3M distributors have that allows them to allocate production when there are shortages. Because they’ve gone through shortages before. They have technology that gives them the ability to match production and demand. You know, why aren’t we communicating these things and getting them above-board? And look, the White House, FEMA, I give them credit for trying, but there’s so many people trying to hit home runs that they’re stepping on each other and that’s delayed things. I’m not going to criticize the White House over it, because it’s very difficult to do. But if 3M and said, look, we know this industry and there’s even, you know, mask associations, let us manage this because we know what we’re doing. Things would get better and you’d reduce the fear factor, because at least people who are concerned about all this would understand that there’s a solution coming in place, like we talked about the innovators with on the medical side.
[42:52] Andy Slavitt: So when I’ve talked to the White House, their estimate initially was that we’re short, about a billion masks. Now they think that number might be somewhere between 2 and 3, given the length of this. And, you know, 3M, I think by their own public numbers, it’s producing about a billion a year. I want to push on the Defense Production Act for a second. Let’s say they could be making another 20 to 30 million masks, which won’t solve the whole problem, but they refuse. Why wouldn’t the president want to threaten to use the Defense Production Act to force them to at least step that up?
[43:26] Mark Cuban: You could certainly use it as a threat, but I don’t think it solves the problem. Because like you said, we don’t know. You know, the estimate was 2 to 3 billion masks. That’s a wide spread. You know, and that just tells you that you don’t know what you’re using. I would be on the telephone — and I told this to people in the White House. You need to be on the telephone every single day with Presbyterian in New York and every major hospital that is a hotspot and say, “what did you use yesterday?” Every single day. So that you can aggregate the demand and then deal with, OK — because in New York City, let’s just say Presby has — president said the other day that the largest hospital was using 30,000 units a week. Right. And there’s not 10 Presbys there. So that’s 300,000 masks a week in New York City. Now let’s just double that to 600,000. We have enough production for that. And so if that’s the hottest spot and then we just prioritize on the way down, we may have enough masks to say, OK, you’re getting it now, New York. Chicago, you’re probably going to get hit in two weeks. Dallas in four weeks, whatever it may be. But let’s put together a program that allows us to get the masks on a just-in-time basis where they need to be when they need to be there. And it’s the same type of concept for ventilators. Where they need to be when they need to be there. And when people get healthier and you get over the apex, get those ventilators out and get them where they need to be when they need to be there.
[44:49] Andy Slavitt: It’s information management, and it’s military ops, and logistical ops that we really only do at-scale while we’re in the theater of battle. But we do know how to do it. And those people need to be enlisted. And there’s no doubt that there’s masks sitting in closets in Cleveland waiting for the crisis to hit there. But still, in all, I would say we know –to me, it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 billion or 3 billion, we know we know we’re short. We know we’re gonna be short.
[45:17] Mark Cuban: But we also know that because of lack of information, hospitals and providers are hoarding them because they don’t want to be caught short. That’s only because of a lack of information. And again, if Honeywell and 3M and all the mask manufacturers, even some of the Chinese mask manufacturers, and other countries, Mexico, there’s manufacturers, if we organize them all in, and started getting good information, then we could address all these things. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they hoard? It’s a smart thing for them to do for your population.
[45:47] Andy Slavitt: Right. This is where the measure of confidence and trust and competence comes in, because if you believe that, let’s say you’re in a city where your peak demand is going to be April 30th. And you believed that you had 500 extra ventilators, and you believed that by the time it got to April 30th, that FEMA would logistically be able to get those ventilators back to you, plus the ones you needed, you might have that level of confidence. Today that doesn’t that doesn’t exist.
[46:18] Mark Cuban: And remember, particularly for the ventilators, you also need the medical expertise. If you have 500 ventilators, you need to know — and I’m not the expert here, this is just from me reading — you need to have the medical expertise to know how to put them to work. Right. And there’s so many different types of ventilators that’ll create confusion. So it’s more than just about the number of ventilators and getting them in place. It’s also about the expertise to make them work.
[46:42] Andy Slavitt: Absolutely. I love, by the way, this sort of online — MIT put online a schema for anybody to make a low-cost ventilator. That’s really cool stuff. I wanna ask you about the president, but not in the way people are used to talking about the president. I’m not going to ask you about how we got into this mess, because I don’t think that’s the most important thing right now. I’m not going to ask you, even whether you think he’s doing a good job or a bad job, because oftentimes we see that through a political lens. I’m actually going to ask you about seeing him as a manager. If you had three recommendations for him, if there are three things you would do, if you’d say here’s some advice and some wisdom from someone who’s run some big things before and steps you should take to just make the thing work better.
[47:23] Mark Cuban: You know, I’ve made so many big, big, big, awful mistakes in my career. I would tell them number one, you know, with responsibility, you have to give authority. And he’s given different people responsibility to try to solve these problems. But it doesn’t seem like he’s given them the necessary authority. And when there’s uncertainty, what appears to be happening is there’s multiple groups trying to solve the problem.
[47:50] Mark Cuban: But none of them have enough authority to get the problem solved. Right. And so he’s got to resolve that. You’ve got to put one person in charge of each individual problem with the authority to do what it takes to resolve the problem. And I think that’s the primary issue we’re facing. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that nobody, from day one, you know, saw this coming. I mean, look, there are a lot of pandemic experts that said this was going to happen eventually. There are a lot of reports written that said we’re not prepared. We should prepare. And yes, all of those were ignored. You know, and again, but there’s no point in playing woulda, coulda, shoulda, like you just referred to. But we are where we are. And he needs to find one point-person that has the authority, that doesn’t have 50 things on their plate, that can focus 100 percent just on this and nothing but this. And it may be, you know, one person for masks, one person for gowns, one person for ventilators, and allow that person to have the authority to put together the team and the resources that are available to them and go get it done. And have them report on a daily basis. Like the way I do it is I want bad news first. I expect you to do good things. That’s why I put you on the spot. Give me the bad news so if I need to call 3M and say “what’s going on?” If I need to call South Korea and say we need you to divert these masks from this manufacturing plant now so I don’t have to use the War Powers Act, then I can go do those things. That’s what’s missing. And that’s the advice I’d give.
[49:22] Andy Slavitt: Yeah. Everybody wants this administration to succeed. And he would have the support of our country because as you said, this is not Democrat versus Republican. The disease, as far as I know, spreads between Democrats and Republicans just as easily as it does within party. This isn’t about the U.S. versus China. It’s about our species. I’ve got a couple more questions and I appreciate all the time today. First is, what I know about you, is you’re a voracious reader. You’re very analytical. You’re very skeptical. And so what are the sources of information around the coronavirus that you find most trustworthy, least agenda-driven, places to point people to listen to, to say that’s a really good source of information?
[50:05] Mark Cuban: Dr. Fauci.
[50:08] Andy Slavitt: got it.
[50:08] Andy Slavitt: Second question, probably the most important question, something I’m wrestling with and it really comes down to this: bad home haircut or puffy hair?
[50:20] Mark Cuban: You know, I have no room to talk. It’s going in all directions. You know, I’m going with that new style called bedhead.
[50:28] Andy Slavitt: What do you think Mark Cuban’s hair looks like three months after not having any access to doing anything with it. Which direction is it going?
[50:37] Mark Cuban: I don’t know. But I’ll tell you the one direction, it won’t go. And that’s manbun. But I am vehemently opposed to the manbun. I think they should be illegal. I just connect that to me. I just can’t see it.
[50:55] Andy Slavitt: You’ve restored some sanity for me with that. Thank you. That would be very hard to imagine. Well, we hope to be seeing you guys soon. Hope to see you on the basketball court again, sitting on the sidelines. I hope you’re getting aggravated about bad calls again. And let’s get back to that world.
[51:12] Mark Cuban: Yeah. You know, I know I’ll be watching for Zach to start draining some threes, too. I can’t wait for us to get back there.
[51:18] Andy Slavitt: Excellent. Thank you so much, Mark.
[51:19] Mark Cuban: Thank you. Appreciate it, Andy. Thanks, Zach.
[51:24] Andy Slavitt: All right. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Mark Cuban. If you stick with his podcast, you’ll hear we’ve got a variety of really interesting guests coming up. Now we’re gonna go to the part of the podcast that professional podcast people like to call Segment 3. I’m not sure why they call it that, but that’s what we’re gonna go to now. Segment 3 is less about the technical things happening with Covid-19 and a little bit more of a focus on some of the great things that are happening out there. Not just scientifically. But some of the things that everyday Americans are doing and families are doing to help other people get through things.
[52:02] Andy Slavitt: Now, I want to do something that’s a little bit unusual when talking about good news. I want to start with some bad news because I think it’s important that we are grounded in the bad news. It helps us reach the good. Not very long ago today, I learned that a dear friend of ours is in the hospital on a ventilator in the ICU. Earlier this week, Zachary and I participated in a phone conversation with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where we were talking about, and with, a star basketball player whose mother is in a coma. The lieutenant governor has just lost her brother to Covid-19. And I’m guessing, and I’m hoping it’s not the case, but I’m guessing that you may have similar stories in your world. That there are people right now that are suffering, and that there are people who are particularly challenged and who are sick. And I offer my thoughts to you and to them that you heal. And if it hasn’t happened to yet, you know, we all need to be a little bit prepared that that may be something that happens. You know, that’s not how you should start good news. But I think out of that, what is amazing to see is how people are rallying and coming together in an incredible way for others during this time. So there was an individual not long ago that started a hashtag called #TheBestofUs, which I find absolutely amazing. And if you go on Twitter to #TheBestofUs, there’s incredible stories of what people are doing for others at this time. So give you an example. One of the things I saw at the best of us was the New York Sikh community has cooked over 30,000 meals for people in self-isolation. And there’s a story in the India Times, and pictures of people making food, delivering food, making sure it’s sterile. And it’s just phenomenally inspiring to see that. So what I want to do now is call the person who came up with this idea. My mom, Zach’s nana.
[54:17] Andy Slavitt: Mom? You’re on my podcast with Zachary. We’re both here calling you.
[54:24] Mom: Right on cue. He’s the best.
[54:26] Andy Slavitt: So anyway, mom, you’re in Chicago, I should tell people. And in beautiful downtown Chicago. But like everybody else, you’re inside and you live in a densely populated community. So you’re being very, very careful. Firstly, I just got to check in and make sure you’re still obeying the rules.
[54:45] Mom: Absolutely. Would I go against what you say? Never.
[54:49] Andy Slavitt: Good. That’s the first time I heard that. I hope you remember that later on. So, mom, I just told people about this new hashtag, the best of us, and I gave an example of one of the things that people are doing out there for others. What kind of reaction have you gotten since you started this hashtag?
[55:09] Mom: The reaction has been fabulous. And people have been sharing the most unbelievable stories. I mean, it just warms your heart.
[55:16] Andy Slavitt: That’s good. We need warm hearts these days for sure. Tell us what one of your favorites was.
[55:21] Mom: Well, today I read something in the newspaper about a young woman who goes to Lincoln Park High School, where over 46 percent of the students are considered low-income. So what she did is she came up with the idea that you purchase a gift card at a nearby restaurant, and the restaurant agrees to donate a second gift card to Lincoln Park High School, which will then be given to a school member or a family in need. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
[55:51] Andy Slavitt: Did I hear you right? Did you say that this was thought of by a high school girl or a young woman?
[55:56] Mom: Yes, a high school student. I mean, that is so outstanding. I just want to give her a huge shout-out.
[56:04] Andy Slavitt: So two things. One is, I’ve never heard you use the expression “shout-out” before. So you might want to think about that. Just doesn’t go with your brand. Secondly, what I’m hearing is you don’t really have to be in a position of power, a doctor, a nurse or a politician to make a difference at this point in time. If a high school student can do it, it sounds pretty promising that anybody can make an impact.
[56:27] Mom: Everyone can make a difference.
[56:29] Andy Slavitt: Well, anyway. Love you, mom. Wish I could see you face-to-face. Thank you for joining our podcast and keep shouting out those people. I think it’s great what you’ve done. What’s your Twitter handle?
[56:41] Mom: I forgot what it is.
[56:42] Andy Slavitt: You forgot what it is?
[56:44] Mom: @ASlavittsMom. #TheBestofUs.
[56:50] Andy Slavitt: No, I don’t think the hashtag is part of your Twitter name. See, I’m so glad that I can still school you and how Twitter works. Meanwhile, Zach school’s me and everything else. Okay, well, we will talk to you later. Everyone here sends their love and we will talk to you very soon. Do you want to say anything before we get off?
[57:05] Mom: I want to say that out of every negative comes something positive. I’m gonna learn how to use the Internet a lot better than I was able to before.
[57:14] Andy Slavitt: What’s the positive? Just kidding. Just kidding. All right, Mom. OK, that was that was my mom. She does exist. And she did a good thing. And I think that will spark other good things, I hope. And that’s great. If that felt a little sappy to you, then I guess I’d say this: this is not a bad time to be sappy. I was always quite comfortable with my mom saying sappy things to me. But I would say that both of our boys, I say very sappy things to them. And if I don’t say sappy things enough, then this is a good time to do it. And not just with your family, but with your friends. I think it’s going to help us all. Well, anyway, hope you enjoyed this podcast episode today. It was our first time. If we did anything that made us sound unprofessional, it’s because we are. Thanks and we’re gonna get through this, everybody, and we’ll gonna get through it together.
[58:11] Andy Slavitt: In the Bubble is a production of Lemonada Media. Niccole Galteland is our producer and Ivan Kuraev is our editor. Music is by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill. Zach Slavtii is our co-producer and my co-host. You can find out more about our show on social media @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me on social media at @ASlavitt on Twitter, @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you liked what you heard today, tell your family and friends, but tell them at a distance. For now, stay safe. Share some joy. We’ll get through this together. And #StayHome.