Blinded By The Light

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“Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun.
Oh, but Mama. That’s where the fun is”
– Blinded By The Light

Once upon a time, in a business model long, long, ago (can I say that now that I have been “unemployed” for more than a year?), I had a very talented employee.  He was smart.  He was presentable.  He was ambitious.  And, he wanted to be a producer.  Why?  Not because he had an affinity for sales.  Not because he had the “never say die” attitude required to hear “No” a lot more often than you hear “Yes”.  He wanted to be a producer because “producer’s make all of the money” – i.e. “Oh, but Michael. That’s where the fun is.”  My answer to this young buck was akin to the famous “Miracle Max” line from The Princess Bride – “It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.”  I told him, “You’re wrong.  Producers do not make all of the money.  Good producers make all of the money!

As we discussed the situation, I told him that I would, indeed, allow him to become a producer if he could provide the answer to one simple question – “What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?” (Millennials, google it)  Seriously, I asked him, “Once you have sold our services to your family and friends – who will, by the nature of the “family and friend rule”, buy whatever you are selling, be it steak knives, used cars, or insurance – what unique and differentiated skill do you posses that will incite a total stranger to buy from you rather than the 50 other people also trying to get his business?”  At that moment, I appreciated the origin of the phrase, “a deer in the headlights.”  That young buck is now a full grown “20 pointer” and doing a great job… as a client service executive.

“Well, I unsnapped his skull cap, between his ears I saw a gap and figured he’d be all right.”
– Blinded By The Light

The issue that I see increasingly in business and in life is professionals who want more.  In principle, there is nothing wrong with wanting more.  The issue is “Why?”   Unfortunately, it appears that the driving force behind most of these desires is “just because” – because I want more; because I need more; because I see others with more.  There is a great scene in the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (very underrated) when the idealistic Jacob Moore (Shia Labouf) questions the evil banker, Bretton James (Josh Brolin) – “See, I find everybody has a “number” and it is usually an exact number. So, what is yours?” “More”

Early in my tenure at Equity Risk Partners, I wanted more.  I wanted to be on the cover of Business Insurance, our leading industry publication.  And, why not?  Clearly, I was destined to be part of the industry Mt. Rushmore – Pat Ryan, Bob Clements, Hank Greenberg, and Michael Marcon.  So, imagine my frustration one day when I opened my issue of Business Insurance and saw on the cover a competitor of ours that was getting press by (in my opinion or IMHO for my Twitter followers) taking a shortcut.  I called my investor and partner, John Pasquesi.  I asked him to be honest with me.  I asked him, if we wanted to, could we take the same shortcut and could I get my picture on the cover of Business Insurance?  “Yes”, he replied.  “100%”.  I thought for a moment, calmed down, and said, “OK.  As long as you know it and I know it, I am OK.”  I look back on that now as a defining moment for me.  I stayed the course building the business that was my passion, as opposed to chasing “more”.

As I embark on a new strategy – with a new partner – I have been tempted “look into the sights of the sun”.  I see the “easy way”.  I can access the shortcuts.  I could do it in my sleep.  All I have to do is answer one question.  It is the same question that Mary asked me 27 years ago on our first date – “What is it that you want, Michael?”

“Well, I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said, “Take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night,
and then, boy, you’re on your own”
– Blinded By The Light

 

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, an Operating Partner of Altamont Capital Partners, Chairman of The Marcon Foundation, and the former founder, Chairman and CEO of Equity Risk Partners.

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