Magna Cum Meaningless

Apple on a vintage report card

In this graduation season, I thought I would share a story of my academic prowess. It landed me in a world of ever-increasing responsibilities, compensations, and perks (insert sarcasm emoji here).

From prior posts, you know that I enrolled at Ursinus College, a highly selective liberal arts school. I thought I was well prepared for the rigors of college academics based on my highly regarded college preparatory courses at Bergen Catholic H.S. To quote the famous sportscaster, Warner Wolf (as usual, millennials, google him), “If you had Michael Marcon and a 3.5 GPA in his freshman year…YOU LOST!”

I struggled with my GPA. Balancing athletics (I played basketball), academics, and a social life with my newly found freedom was difficult. It wasn’t that I did not understand the material. I did. It wasn’t that I wasn’t organized. I was. It was the volume of work and the lack of structure. Plus, if truth be told, I enjoyed my social life. Those 8:00 am classes came around way too early. I’ll just get the notes from someone else, I rationalized (this is now comical coming from the person who is regularly in the office before 6:00 am). Needless to say, this resulted in a – how do the VC’s say it? – “sub-optimal outcome with a GPA variance more than two standard deviations from the mean.”

Aka, my grades sucked.

Meanwhile, over the summer between my first and second years at Ursinus College, I was able to land a job working for my father’s firm, Insurance Services Office. I worked in the IT department. This was the summer that the laptop was becoming an office tool. The VP of IT asked me to learn how to use it. Every day, I rode the train to/from NYC with my Dad (in the smoking car, no less). Every day, I experimented with the new computer, the various software packages and their floppy disks (Millennials, you know what to do) – Lotus 1-2-3, Dbase, etc. By the end of the summer, not only had I learned how to use the various software packages, I had also built applications for the IT department and developed training sessions to help prepare the full time staff on how to use the products after I went back to school. I learned that I knew how to create a presentation. I learned how to present to a group of people. I learned to assimilate information from a basic platform into a usable analysis. In short, I started to learn how to “do business.”

Back at Ursinus College for my second year, I had some catching up to do. Having dropped two classes the prior semester, I was 6 credits behind schedule. I decided to make up all of the credits at once and ended up taking a full course load plus two additional classes. That was in addition to playing basketball. I always look back on my life and say that my first semester of my sophomore year at Ursinus College is when I became an adult. I faced my challenges, made a plan, executed it and fixed my problem. BY MYSELF. It was a very rewarding experience.

Early in my 2nd semester, I received a letter in the mail. It was from my Dad. It was a copy of my grades from the first semester (this was back before “privacy laws” and schools actually sent your grades to your parents). I had scored a 3.9 GPA for the semester. My Dad wrote a note across the top that has stayed with me over the past 33 years. It has governed my career choices. It has impacted my management style. It has influenced my recruitment and hiring philosophies…

“Dear Mike,

 You should be very proud of this result. You worked hard and achieved your goal. Well done. Keep it up.

But, always remember, business and life is about interpersonal skills. It is about relationships. It is about creating a vision and executing a strategy. It is about the ability to communicate both written and verbal. Once in the business world, grades don’t mean a thing.

I fire people who had 4.0’s every day.

See you soon. Love, Dad”

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.

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