December 2016 marked my 30th year in business and 30 years since I graduated from Ursinus College — time flies! Interestingly (maybe not so much if you know me), I have never really paused to look back. Baseball player Satchel Paige always warned, “Don’t look back. Someone might be gaining on you.” Just for this post though, let’s look back before turning our focus to what lies ahead. Maybe, I have learned a few thing(s) that can help you. Actually, Tim McGraw summed it up better than I could:
“I think I’ll take a moment to celebrate my age
The ending of an era and the turning of a page
Now it’s time to focus in on where I go from here
Lord, have mercy on my next thirty years
In my next thirty years I’m gonna have some fun
Try to forget about all the crazy things I’ve done
Maybe now I’ve conquered all my adolescent fears
And I’ll do it better in my next thirty years
My next thirty years I’m gonna settle all the scores
Cry a little less, laugh a little more
Find a world of happiness without the hate and fear
Figure out just what I’m doin’ here in my next thirty years”
What have I learned after I left Ursinus College in 1986? You’ll have to wait and buy my book; follow me on Twitter @mcm7464 if you want to be the first to know when it comes out. But, since I have not started writing it yet, I will share some thoughts here. Oh, and I’ll also tweet the short versions.
All of the sayings and clichés you’re about to hear are true. They are all true because they happened to someone, who passed them on. Then, they happened to someone else who passed them on. And so on…and so on…and so on…
There are a few mantras that I go back to over and over again that have defined how I have tried to do business over the past 30 years since I graduated from Ursinus College. The best part? They’re easy to tweet if you want to share them with your friends.
- “Right is always right, even if everyone is against it. Wrong is always wrong, even if everyone is for it.”
There is no need to explain this one.
- “Someone is always watching.”
You are always representing your company, your family, and yourself. Always. Many years ago, I was on a business trip and I was walking back to my hotel after dinner. I saw walking toward me a business colleague from a different city. He was walking arm in arm with a woman who was not his wife. I will never forget the sheer look of terror on his face as we passed each other on the sidewalk without even a hint of acknowledgment.
- “Good companies focus on the competition. Great companies focus on clients.”
The great firms and the great leaders did not get to their lofty status by copying others. Steve Jobs did not get to be “Steve Jobs” by reading a book on Jack Welch. Amazon.com did not get to be Amazon.com by focusing on Barnes and Noble. Take care of your clients. Speaking of which…
- “Taming the tough clients is what separates GREAT companies from good companies.”
Anyone can service the easy clients. My advice? Win over the demanding ones. Wow the clients that force you to raise your game and then enjoy the view from the top when you keep striving to exceed expectations after everyone else has stopped. That leads me to…
- “Remember. When you are not practicing, someone else, somewhere else, is practicing. He will beat you when you meet.”
This concept worked well for Bill Bradley, one of my idols growing up. I’m proud to say that it has also worked for me. I’m not the only one; it worked so well for Andy Grove, the legendary CEO of Intel, that he wrote a book called Only The Paranoid Survive.
- “There are no shortcuts.”
I like to read biographies of great achievers. Every great achiever has two qualities in common: one you cannot control – the gifts (talents) you have been given from God — and the other you can control – how hard you work. To dismiss the accomplishments of Tiger Woods, Bruce Springsteen, Stephen King, Meryl Streep, Norm Abram, and Jackson Pollack as unattainable because they have “God-given talent” and you don’t is a huge mistake. Why? There are thousands (probably millions) of people with equal levels of God-given talent. The single thread among all high achievers that I’ve noticed is how much they outworked everybody else. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”
I have decided at this point that 30 years of experience cannot possibly be limited to one post or 6 tweets. Watch for a future post for “the rest of the story.”
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.