I like speaking with students. I enjoy the ability to give back. I look back on my formative years at Ursinus College and wish that I had had access to business leaders and other successful people to help with my path forward. For the past several years, in my prior role as a trustee at Ursinus College, I have had the opportunity to speak to students on many, many occasions. I hope that I was able to impart some wisdom and guidance. I suspect they enjoyed it more because I represented a break from the normal class work! Regardless, every time I speak to a group of students, I always get the same questions:
“Do you have any regrets in your business career?”
My answer? No. Where you are in life is the sum of every decision you have made up to this very second. In fact, it is also the sum of every decision ever made up to this very second – if my mom went to the St. Anthony church picnic on Sunday in 1957 instead of Saturday, she doesn’t meet my Dad and I am not the person I am today.
To have a “regret” means that you do not want to be in this place, this moment, right here, right now. I cannot imagine being anywhere else than this place, this moment, right here, right now. This does not mean that I have not had my share of heartbreak, disappointment, despair, defeat, and sadness. But, all of those moments have shaped my life to this point. Is not the success of my company, Equity Risk Partners, that much more gratifying as a result of the prior frustrations? Is not the joy of holding my granddaughter Penelope that much sweeter as a result of previous loss and heartbreak?
To have no regrets, does not mean that I have not learned lessons. Ursinus College has taught me many lessons – some very recently – that I will continue to incorporate into my future decisions. Remember the post from December 13, 2016 – “What you did is done. It is what you do next that defines who you are.” Or, as LL Cool J would say, “Regrets? Nah, man.”
“How did you get to where you are now?”
To quote David Letterman, “I am hopelessly lost, but I am making ‘good time.’”
In thinking about this question over the years, my answer has not changed – Be Present. I never tried to “back into” some real or imagined “necessary outcome.” There are too many variables outside of your control to make the concept of backing into a desired outcome even remotely feasible. So, I never tried.
In building my career, I never once thought, “I need to be at this level by this date making this much money.” As you know from prior Michael Marcon Tweets, I did spend a lot of time focused on not achieving what I thought I was capable of achieving in my career. Which was what? Simply, “more.”
In building Equity Risk Partners, we never once thought, “We need to be at this revenue level by this date and exit at this multiple so that we can return this amount to investors.” At the risk of sounding like “Leave It To Beaver” (millennials – google it), we just started each day by asking one simple question – “How do we build a great firm?” How do you get to where I am now? Walk through your own “Potentiometer” (Michael Marcon Tweets, January 31, 2017) every year and have it turn “green.” You will end up exactly where you are supposed to be.
“What should I/we do to be successful?”
Easy. Go back and read my prior posts. Then, do the exact opposite!
The answer to that question is the same as what PGA Tour players ask from their caddies – “Show up. Shut up. Keep up.”
Every successful person I have ever met / knew / read about all had the same quality – they put themselves in a position to be successful. They were there when the opportunities arose. They raised their hand when someone needed to step up. They surrounded themselves with mentors and colleagues and friends and supporters that collectively shared in their success. They showed up.
At our firm, we like to invest in bright, young, “up ‘n comers.” You can’t “teach” a work ethic. You can’t “train” someone to have presence. So, we try to select for those qualities and then train them on the technicalities. As a result, we get a lot of “high maintenance” professionals who are not used to struggling early in their career. I always tell them the same thing – You will know that you are the “big man on campus” when you stop feeling compelled to tell people you are the “big man on campus.” They shut up.
Lastly, the sooner you recognize that there is no true definition of success – it is truly in the eye of the beholder – the better off you will be. Sure, I could have told you that right from the outset. But, I needed to get in my 1000 words! Whatever their definition, the successful people keep moving with the target. They keep changing with the world. They keep challenging the status quo (and themselves). They keep up.
After all of that, would you like to hear my “real real” answer? It came from the then 6 year old son of my long-time assistant and colleague.
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.