Looking for the silver linings

When the economy is a disaster zone, who do you call? A disaster economist, of course.

And one need look no further than downtown.

This disaster-prone city has a disaster specialist right in its own front yard.

Randall Bell has been called upon to facilitate reconstruction at the World Trade Center, and to assess the damage from 50-year-old atomic testing at the Bikini Atoll.


The Laguna Beach resident works out of a converted cottage on Broadway with the startling sign “” outside.

He was asked to help figure out the real estate value of the home where the largest mass suicide in the state was committed by the Heaven’s Gate sect, in Rancho Mirage, near San Diego. (The property ended up being purchased by a neighbor for open space, and the grisly death site demolished.)

Bell has some interesting stories about the disasters he’s been called in to consult on. It’s not an easy task, because not only is there the physical catastrophe — devastation wrought by human hands or nature — but the emotional toll on the victims and those who are responsible for the situation.

“You have to be able to walk into a chaotic situation and have a clear head and a clear strategic framework,” he said.


World Trade Center

At the World Trade Center, Bell was asked to help the property owners — the New York Port Authority — come up with the “highest and best use” of the property. This was in 2005, when all that was left after the Twin Towers collapse was a huge hole in the ground and the feeling among many that the entire site should become a memorial to the dead.

That, to Bell, was not the highest and best use of a property that had been at the center of the world’s economic engine. Instead, he helped Port Authority officials devise a plan that the property be divided into four equal parcels, and one set aside as a memorial to those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

But that didn’t answer the question: What is a memorial worth? To determine this, he studied the economics of memorials, including those at Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor, and determined that a memorial could be economically self-sustaining, and even complement an adjacent commercial development.

Thus was born the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment District.



Bell is the first one to admit he’s in an unusual field. In fact, it’s a field he pretty much invented all by himself.

As a UCLA graduate business student 20 years ago, Bell said he wanted to develop an all-encompassing “macro-strategy” that could address any scenario in business and life.

“My goal was to develop a framework that would encompass any business and any life situation and be complete,” Bell said.

He came up with a method, now published as a book, called “Strategy 360,” which he believes can help anyone find, return to or stay on the path of progress and success.

The book, subtitled “10 Steps to Creating a Complete Game Plan for Business and Life,” is timely, given the unprecedented economic disaster that is unfolding worldwide.

The program is based on three Greek principles: ethos, logos and pathos. Those equate to the physical, the social and the mental.

All must work together in harmony for maximum success, he says.

He agrees with Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” that the key is to “pick a purpose” and set a direction.


“Take your best shot,” Bell says.

The book walks the reader through the matrix Bell has developed; the same one he uses in his consulting.

Disaster of confidence

As for the current state of the economy, Bell believes the real disaster is one of corrosive doubt about the structure of the U.S. economy.

“There’s a lack of confidence that intelligent decisions have been made, and that the people running the show haven’t done their homework,” he said.

To get through it, he says government will have to cut its costs — and losses — particularly in the Iraq war.

“War is amazingly wasteful of money and lives,” he said.

Ever the optimist, Bell believes that new ideas coming from the Obama Administration will set a different course and hopefully get the economy back in balance.

“Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, you should get behind this president and support him, and be hopeful,” Bell said. “He’s inherited a big mess.”

Maybe Bell should send Obama a copy of his book.

“Strategy 360” can be found at local bookstores, and purchased at