Follow the Yellow Brick Road


One of the greatest pieces of business and personal advice ever did not come from Jim Collins, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Tony Robbins, or any other management / life guru.  The greatest piece of business and personal advice ever came from Prince Denis.  That’s right, Prince Denis.  You don’t know him?  Of course, you do. You know him by his “aka” – He was the Mayor of Munchinland in The Wizard of Oz.  His tremendous piece of business and personal advice?

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

How do I chart a course for my business that is unique?  Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

How do I achieve personal fulfillment?  Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

The Wizard of Oz is very insightful in terms of the advice and guidance it gives us for our personal and professional journey.

The Road is easy! Until it’s not!  “Weeeeeeeeee’re off to see the wizard. The wonderful Wizard of Oz. We hear he is a whiz of a wiz; If ever a wiz there was; If ever, oh ever a wiz there was; The Wizard of Oz is one because; Because, because, because, because, because; Because of the wonderful things he does…”

When Dorothy and Toto start out on their journey, the road before them is smooth sailing for as far as they can see.  If the road did not look smooth at the beginning, who would ever start a journey?  (Of course, I am speaking of metaphorical journeys – i.e. life and business.  Every actual journey these days (traffic, TSA, airline seats, “comfort pets”) is the polar opposite of a Yellow Brick Road).

The key to success in life and business is not the start of the journey – it is the perseverance through all the twists and turns and obstacles you encounter along the way.  The advice from the Mayor was to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.  You will note that he never said it would be easy.  It just looked that way!

“Poppies! Poppies will make them sleep!”  In our journey toward business and personal fulfillment, we will always encounter our “Wicked Witch of the West” (mine is actually a “competitor” from the east).  They will constantly try to throw you off course. They will try every trick in the book.  When you Follow the Yellow Brick Road, you are doing something that most people will not / do not want to do.  Notice how everybody in Munchinland knew how to get to Oz?  But, none of them were willing to follow their own advice.  Similarly, in life, those of you that choose to Follow the Yellow Brick Road will encounter the witches that want to see you fail, if only to avoid highlighting their own fears and inadequacies.

“You killed her”  Everyone remembers the lines/scene right before this one – “I’m melting! I’m melting!”  But, for me, the real insight is that the guard was stunned that water was the antidote to the Wicked Witch.  It was almost a head slap of “Why didn’t we think of that?”  The key to business and life is to recognize that, more often than not, the solution to your problem is usually the simple one (water) and you don’t need to overcomplicate it.  And, of course, once you conquer your Wicked Witch, the Ruby Slippers are yours!

“But, I have the ruby slippers!”  “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?”  I think this scene is hysterical.  The vast majority of people you will encounter in business and in life are OK with the status quo.  They are not interested / willing to Follow the Yellow Brick Road.  So, in order to achieve your dreams, you cannot rely on others to recognize your special qualities.  You have to keep knocking on the door! They will not let you in the first time…or the second… or the third.  Then, you have to show them / tell them why you are special!  It is the single most finessed aspect of achieving business and personal success – recognizing you are special and showing others you are special WITHOUT acting like you are special.  Master that and you won’t “be in Kansas” for very long.

“There’s No Place Like Home”  Why did Dorothy Follow the Yellow Brick Road in the first place?  Why did she seek to find the Wizard?  To Get Back Home!  It is the beginning and the ending.  It is the impetus and the goal.  It is the ultimate secret. Everything you seek on your journey in business and life is sitting right at your starting point.  But, without the journey, you just can’t appreciate it.

“I’ve traveled here and everywhere following my job
I’ve seen the paintings from the air brushed by the hand of God
The mountains and the canyons reach from sea to shining sea
But I can’t wait to get back home to the ones He made for me
Cause anywhere I’ll ever go and everywhere I’ve been
Nothing takes my breath away like my front porch looking in”
– Lonestar


Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC

It’s A Wonderful Life


I have been screwed by a lot of people over my 32 years in business.  I have always been amazed by the capacity of the human mind to rationalize bad behavior in order to justify a decision that is beneficial to the person doing the rationalizing.  (How’s that for the opening lines of a Christmas themed blog post?)

Throughout my career, I have tried to do the right thing.  I have tried to take the high road.  I have tried to live by the golden rule (no, not “he who has the gold makes the rules”; the other one) – treat people the way you would like to be treated.  I have tried to picture myself “on the other side of desk” and act accordingly.  I have not even remotely come close to achieving this standard consistently.  But, I have tried.  As the immortal Coach Eric Taylor said, “Character, it’s in the trying.”

A few years ago, I was bemoaning to a close friend about the circumstances of me being screwed by a particularly unscrupulous person that I had been in business with.  He had lied to my face, stabbed me in the back, and then came back down the chimney and stole my last piece of roast beast!  (Oh, sorry, that last part was The Grinch)  I said to my friend, “When does doing the right thing pay off?  When does taking the high road generate a dividend?  When do I get my “George Bailey Moment”?  You know, that moment when trying to do the right thing all the time results in an unexpected positive outcome?”  My friend said, “Well, don’t you think that time you fell off of your roof and walked away without a scratch was your “George Bailey Moment?”  I replied “Yeah, I guess you’re right.  I just thought it would be more… cinematic.”

As we watch It’s A Wonderful Life this Christmas, the movie has a number of great lessons for business and life.  Here are a few that stand out to me:

Ask Dad. He Knows.  Those are the words on the ad sign hanging in Gower’s Drug Store that inspire George to seek his Dad’s advice when he knows Mr. Gower accidentally put poison in the capsules.  None of us have all the answers.  We aren’t supposed to have all the answers.  The key is having the guts to ask for help.  Dad, Mom, Mentor, Friend, Teacher, Colleague – Ask Them. They Know.

Hire People Capable of Taking Your Job. Many executives pay lip service to “hiring the best and the brightest”.  Most executives are too insecure to do that because they fear they will get passed by.  True leaders are comfortable in their own skin and with their own abilities and recognize building the best team shines as much of a halo on them as it does on the performers.  Had George hired the best and the brightest at the Building & Loan, he might have avoided his plunge from the bridge.

We Will All Have a Mr. Potter in Our Life.  There are always people who do not play by the rules and appear to have benefitted from their transgressions.  I believe one of the most important characteristics to have is the ability to maintain your values and your standards when everyone around you is lowering theirs and, apparently, benefitting as a result.  When you see it happen in life ask yourself one question – Would Mr. Martini “busta” the juke box for that guy?  If not, then keep doing what you are doing.

Believe in Guardian Angels.  I think the best part of the George/Clarence dynamic is not when Clarence saves George.  It is when Clarence tells George, “Oh, I’ve been watching you since you were a little boy.”  You never know when the curveball will come.  You won’t see the sucker punch.  But, your Guardian Angel is watching and he will step in when you least expect it.  Live your life and handle your business as if he is always watching.

Celebrate the Joy of Life, Family, Friends, and Work.  There are two scenes in IAWL that choke me up every time.  One is when George “comes back to life” and runs through Bedford Falls shouting “Merry Christmas!”  He hugs Burt the cop (Friend).  He cheers when he sees the “Welcome to Bedford Falls” sign (Life).  He yells “Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!” as he runs past Bailey Brothers (Work).  And, he runs home, past the reporters and the sheriff, up the stairs to hug his kids (Family).  Success is not a “Chinese menu”.  You can’t just pick one.  True success is the ability to celebrate all of the aspects of your life.  I hope it doesn’t take a Christmas Eve dive into an icy river to learn that lesson.

Let Yourself Be Embraced.  The other scene that chokes me up is when Harry toasts, “To my big brother, George, the richest man in town!”  That scene, that moment, is literally the mental picture I use when I am making a tough decision.  It is the culmination of every basic, decent, loving, generous, faithful, selfless act that George Bailey ever made.  That is what generates true success in business and in life.

As you watch It’s A Wonderful Life this year, I hope that some of these lessons and thoughts help you and your family achieve a greater level of peace and a true definition of success.  Who knows?  Maybe someday when you hear a bell ring, you’ll wink and say “Atta boy, Michael”.

Wait, wait.  Don’t leave, yet.  I forgot the single, most-important, unequivocally universal lesson from IAWL that will truly bring you riches and rewards beyond your wildest dreams…

Find Your Mary.


Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC





Blinded By The Light


“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, LLC

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?


“Who says you can’t go home?
There’s only one place they call me one of their own
Just a hometown boy born a rolling stone
Who says you can’t go home?
Who says you can’t go back?
I been all around the world and as a matter of fact
There’s only one place left I wanna go
Who says you can’t go home?” – Bon Jovi

Home… That is an interesting word.  How do you define it?  I can hear my Dad’s voice in my head right now – in his very deliberate, “e-nun-ci-ate e-ver-y syl-a-ble” style of asking a question – “How… do… you… define…home?”  Business “home” or personal home?  For business, is home CIGNA (my first job out of school)?  Aon (the first job where I found my passion)?  Equity Risk (the job that defined me)?  For personal, is home the South side of Chicago (where I was born)?  The south suburbs of Chicago or Ridgewood, NJ (where I was raised)?  San Ramon or Alamo, CA (where Mary and I created our family)?  Door County, WI (where I go to recharge my soul)?

Needless to say, the answer to that question is a very personal one and each individual will define it differently.  The key, though, to business and personal success is to actually define it.  However you define it for yourself, you need a baseline – a frame of reference – a true north – that allows you to create balance, foundation, and a road map for future success.

For me, when people ask me about home, I always answer as follows – “I was born in Chicago.  I am from California.  I am home in Door County, WI.”  Door County is home.  It is where I feel most closely aligned with who I am.  It is where I find inspiration, beauty, simplicity, and decency.  It is where the basics matter.  It is not a place to “fly over”, it is a place to FLY TO – where neighbors, community, and faith remain a bond that unites us rather than some outdated notion from a bygone era.

In business, I look at the question in a similar way – “My career was born at CIGNA. My career flourished at Aon. My true vocation and passion were discovered at Equity Risk Partners.”  Equity Risk is home.  It proved that with hard work, great people, and luck, you could build a business from scratch and succeed.  It proved that a relentless focus on clients and an unwavering devotion to being the best in a given specialty can overcome significant disadvantages in size.

One of the greatest business books ever written is In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman.  Of all the great analysis in the book, the best item is actually the first item – Stick To Your Knitting.  Do what you do best.  Focus on your strengths.  If this is not the single best piece of advice for business and personal success, then I do not know what is.  Another way Peters and Waterman could have said it is – Go Home.

Next week, it will be one year since I departed Equity Risk.  It has been an amazing 12 months.  I met many new people who have impressed me with their accomplishments, ideas, and creativity.  I analyzed several businesses that impressed me with their unique approaches, passion for success, and differentiated offerings.  I recharged my ambition and work ethic by associating with those in the midst of discharging theirs.  And, I rediscovered my youthful exuberance by crawling on the floor, swinging on the swings, climbing up the slide, and reading on the rocking chair with the single best reason for still wanting to make myself a better person at 54 years old – Penelope.

I will be “heading home” in the next few weeks.  I look forward to sharing it with you soon.

“It doesn’t matter where you are
It doesn’t matter where you go
If it’s a million miles away or just a mile up the road
Take it in
Take it with you when you go
Who says you can’t go home?”


Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC

Oh, Ye of Little Faith


There is a great punchline from an old commercial that I repeat to Mary every time she cooks dinner as part of a little husband / wife humor.  Of course, as is the case with most of our husband / wife humor, only the husband finds it humorous.  The wife just finds it annoying.  Thank God, she married me for my looks.

In the commercial, a woman is planning Thanksgiving dinner with the new “self-basting” turkey.  One of the “old guard” is incredulous that the turkey does not require basting and keeps stating, “It’s gonna be DRY!”  Of course, the turkey comes out juicy and delicious.  So, every time Mary starts to cook whatever entree she is planning for dinner, I comment, “It’s gonna be DRY!” and then I just laugh.  I know, I guess you have to be there (or not).

The point of the commercial is that you need to have faith.  Small things can have a great impact.  You just have to believe that it is possible.

Frequent readers of this blog know my affinity for the poem, Footprints. It is the fundamental basis of what I believe. Following a close second to Footprints, The Starfish Story frames the fundamental premise of how I try to lead my business and personal life:

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked, he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish”.
The old man chuckled, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you possibly make?” The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turned to the man,
“I just made a difference to that one!”

Ultimately, success in business is not found through grand plans and earthshaking discoveries.  It is found through small, seemingly insignificant, consistent focus on fundamentals.  Every time you put a client first is a starfish.  Every time you hire for values first and aptitude second is a starfish.  Every time you avoid taking a shortcut is a starfish.  Every time you stick to your principles is a starfish.

A few years ago, a dozen or so baseball sportswriters were asked what player they would choose if they were starting a team from scratch.  The majority of the sportswriters did not pick a mammoth home run giant or a blazing strikeout pitcher.  They picked Derek Jeter, the hall of fame to be shortstop of the New York Yankees.  They all cited a version of the same rationale – Derek Jeter mastered the fundamentals and did all of the “little things” that do not show up in the box score but coaches know are necessary to win games.  Running out fly balls is a starfish.  Turning double plays is a starfish.  Sacrifice bunts and moving runners over is a starfish.  Hitting the cutoff man is a starfish.

In life, it is not about what blessings we are given.  We have no control over that.  Rather, it is about what we do with the blessings we are given that determines the impact we make on others and our world.  Saying a prayer for strangers is a starfish.  Letting that obnoxious driver merge in front of you is a starfish (especially if it is me!).  Overtipping the breakfast waitress is a starfish.  Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is a starfish.  Handing out candy instead of “healthy snacks” at Halloween is a starfish.  Looking at the person in front of you instead of the screen in your hand is a starfish.  And, of course, giving a hand to those who need one is the best starfish of all.

Several years ago, my Mom was relegated to driving a motorized scooter while she recovered from a serious operation and was unable to walk.  As she was scooting around the grocery store, she came across a little girl who was crying because she had become separated from her mother.  My Mom told the little girl to “Hop on!” and proceeded to drive the girl all around the store until she relocated her with her frantic and grateful mother.  How do I know about this story?  It was told to us by that little girl’s mother, who contacted our family after she read my Mom’s obituary and recognized her from the picture.

“I just made a difference to that one!”


Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC

Write Us a Blog, You’re the M3K Man; Write Us A Blog Tonight; ‘Cause We’re All in the Mood for Inspiration and You’ve Got the Message Just Right!


Who would have thought that the “Piano Man” could also be an eloquent leadership consultant?  Yet, after taking in the Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden a few weeks ago, he did more than tickle the ivories – he piqued my interest with the applicability of many of his lyrics to lessons for business leaders.  Here are a few that really align well.  (Try to sing the lyrics as you read. After all, this is a multimedia blog!)

“Slow down, you crazy child.  You’re so ambitious for a juvenile…

Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about?
You’d better cool it off before you burn it out.
You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.  Hey. Hey…”

Early in my career, I had just started a position with a new company.  Within a few weeks of starting the role, I was already performing at a high level and attracted the attention of a senior manager in another department.  He approached me about leaving my current role and joining his team.  Oh, did I mention that my current manager had relocated me across the country for the job and this “new” manager wanted me to now relocate to his unit in a different city?  I did not know what to do.  So, I turned to my only source for advice in those days  (Remember the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when young George must deliver the capsules to Mrs. Blain, but he knows that Mr. Gower, distraught from the death of his son, mistakenly put poison in the medicine?  George does not know where to turn and then looks up and sees an advertisement on the wall of the drug store for “Sweet Caporal” tobacco.  The ad says “Ask Dad. He Knows!”)  I called my Dad.

As you already know from The Gospel According to Fred, my Dad always told me exactly what he thought and usually taught me a lesson at the same time.  After painstakingly walking him through my situation, my Dad exploded (the next part is “NSW / NSM”) – “What is your f#@king hurry!  Do you know how many guys I have seen over the years with rockets strapped to their asses?  They all crash and burn just as spectacularly as they take off!”

It is great to have ambition.  It is great to have drive and goals.  However, you also need patience.  Sometimes your career moves faster than you deserve.  Sometimes you get roadblocked for no good reason.  Ultimately, the employment/career market is an efficient one and most people end up exactly where they are supposed to.  Best to enjoy the journey.  “When will you realize Vienna waits for you?”


“They’ll tell you you can’t sleep alone in a strange place.
Then they’ll tell you can’t sleep with somebody else.
Ah, but sooner or later you sleep in your own space
Either way it’s O.K. you wake up with yourself”

One of the phrases that I banned from being used at Equity Risk was “Word on the street is…”.  I hate that term.  I did not care what the competition was doing.  We focused on building our firm our way.  Let the competition worry about us.  The competition is “They”.  Who cares?  Your ultimate responsibility is to yourself, your colleagues, and your family.  Focus on them.  Forget about “they”.  “I don’t care what you say anymore.  This is My Life.  Go ahead with your own life.  Leave me alone.”


“You have to learn to pace yourself
You’re just like everybody else
You’ve only had to run so far, So good
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you’ll have to deal with

The old saying goes that a diamond is just a piece of coal that was able to withstand the pressure.  In business and in life, how we respond to crises and pressure defines us.  It is a fact of life that we cannot escape.  The secret is not to figure out how to avoid pressure. The secret is to figure out how to deal with it; how to channel it into better performance, more focus, deeper commitment.  If you figure that out, you will certainly have a “chart topper” of a career.


“Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you”

If I had to pick one word that defines success in business and life, it would be honesty. In today’s corporate and personal climate, honesty is sorely missing.  I just finished reading I Love Capitalism by Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot.  The main lesson I took away from his story was his ability to be brutally honest with everyone he encountered.  Of course, the other benefit of total honesty is never having to remember what lies you have told.


“Because you had to be a big shot, didn’t you?
You had to open up your mouth
You had to be a big shot, didn’t you?
All your friends were so knocked out
You had to have the last word, last night
You know what everything’s about
You had to have a white-hot spotlight
You had to be a big shot last night”

At Equity Risk, we spent a lot of time and effort trying to recruit and develop young talent.  The challenge with young talent is that they do not follow the first example of this post.  They are all in a hurry.  One way that manifests itself is by trying to impress those around you.  I saw it so often that I coined a phrase – “You will know you are the “big man on campus” the day you stop feeling compelled to tell people you are the “big man on campus”.  Being secure enough to know that your performance will speak for itself and, ultimately, you will be rewarded accordingly is a great trait to master as early in your career as possible.  Have faith that we are watching.  Have faith that we can tell the difference between luck and skill.


It’s a pretty good crowd for a business/life blog
And WordPress gives me a smile
‘Cause they know that it’s me you’ve been comin’ to read
To balance your business and lifestyle
And the thoughts, they come like a rainstorm
And the words, they flow like a stream
And they sit and discuss, “Can this really be us?”
And ”How do we get to live the dream?”

Hint – You already are!


Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC.

On The Road Again



As I mentioned in a previous post, I made a road trip recently…and lived to talk about it.   Well, a couple weeks after my near-death experience on I-80, Mary and I took another road trip.  This time, we drove from Southern California to Door County, WI.  Thankfully, our car remained in contact with the road for the entire trip.

Traveling across the country twice in the span of 30 days opened my eyes to many observations on our country, our culture, and our history that are applicable to both business and life (and, with all the restraint I can muster, I will completely refrain from using any Springsteen references to cars, roads, highways, etc – although, it will be hard to avoid using the name, “Mary”).

As we start our trips, Mary and I felt like “we were sprung from cages on Highway 9” (damn, I failed already!).  At least we encountered no one “Working on the Highway”, avoided another “Wreck on the Highway”, opted not to “Drive All Night”, and certainly were not going to be “Racing in the Street”.  We choose to drive an Audi and a Jeep and not a “Pink Cadillac” from “Cadillac Ranch” while we were “Out in the Street”.  Along the way, we found some interesting “Backstreets” which allowed us to avoid a “Long Walk Home”.  We saw many a “Highway Patrolman” even when we were in the middle of “Radio Nowhere”.  Whew! I am glad we were able to get that out of our system.

So, what does a cross country trip teach us about business and life?

Find a great co-pilot – How many times have you been driving and needed to do something else – change the navigation system, read the map, search for a new radio station, dump the french fries into the opposite side of the Quarter Pounder box, unscrew the top of the soda bottle, search for money for the toll booth…?  If so, you know how frustrating it can be to try to do it while you are concentrating on the road.

How many times have you been driving and had an amazing thought, saw an amazing view, engaged in an amazing encounter at a rest stop, and thought, “I wish he/she was here to enjoy this with me?”

Building a business, running a company, raising a family – all are extremely hard work. You will be much better off with a great co-pilot to share the load and lend a hand.

Building a business, running a company, raising a family – all are extremely gratifying experiences. You will be much better off with a great co-pilot to share the joy.

Satellite Radio / GPS / Miles to Empty Are Great Inventions – Driving across the country can be boring and tedious at times. It can also be complex.  Having the latest technology is a great gift for making boring, tedious, or complex tasks more efficient and effective.  Technology does not replace the human aspect of the trip – the amazing views, the personal encounters in unique roadside stops, the value judgement on how long you can “hold it” before you get off the highway for a rest stop.  In business and in life, technology should not replace human beings but, rather, allow human beings to do what they do best – interact with other human beings.

It is a vast country – If I had one overwhelming realization from our trips, it would be the shear enormity of the United States.  To all of you on the coasts, do not miss the “fly over states”.  They are AMAZING!  We should hereby change the name to the “drive through states”.  The vast expanse of this country has an effect on you.  You realize how small we are in relation to our world.  You realize how diverse we are in reality and how much more we have in common (common decency) than we don’t.  When holding the door open for me upon entering a gas station during our 13 days on the road (which happened almost every time I entered a station), not one person ever asked my political party affiliation, religious affiliation, sexual preference, or economic status.

To paraphrase Warren Buffet, to be born in the United States of America is to have won “the birth lottery.”  We have the honor and privilege of being in the greatest country on the planet – and the vastness of the country underscores this.  Anything is possible.  Just push your chips into the middle of the table and LET IT RIDE.

There is ALWAYS Construction – Not just on these most recent trips, but every summer trip of any length I have ever taken, there has been construction at some point during the trip.  Building a successful business, family, or life requires us to deal with the inevitable construction delays.  You can get frustrated.  You can get angry at the other drivers.  You can look for shortcuts (and, we all know, end up right back behind the Toyota Corolla you were originally behind when you started your shortcut).  Or, you can play “I Spy” or “License Plate” or “Alphabet” or, my brother, Mark’s, favorite – “Punch Buggy” (he just liked to hit people).

Business and life is not about avoiding construction delays, it is about dealing with construction delays.

Inspiration is all around you – If you are not inspired after a cross country trip, then you are not alive or looking hard enough.  Over 13 days of driving, we encountered…

The Grand Canyon – the single most amazing natural sight I have ever witnessed.  It reinforced my faith in a Creator who is infinitely more powerful than me.  But, it also inspired me to think big.

Mt Rushmore – besides making me very proud to be an American, it inspired me to think outside the box.  Someone looked at the side of a mountain and thought, “I will scale the mountain, set up scaffolding, ropes, pulleys, and levers, and I will carve the faces of the presidents.”  Sure.  Whatever.  Really?  If they can tackle that concept, I am sure you can find a way to address whatever roadblock you are facing at work or at home.

Wall Drug – to a sales guy like me, Wall Drug is the single greatest organic growth marketing concept west of “South of the Border” (“Pedro Says…”).  If they can get millions of drivers to stop at their rest stop over all the others simply with better marketing, imagine what you can do with better marketing AND a quality product to market.

There’s No Place Like Home – Dorothy said it best.  Every restaurant billboard boasts “home cooking”.  Every hotel billboard touts “all the comforts of home”.  Every gas station promotes their restrooms are as “as clean as home”.  Seems to me the thread here is home.  As the great Moonlight Graham from Field of Dreams said about his hometown, “Once a place touches your soul, the wind never blows so cold again.”  We are all restless.  We are all looking for something better. (I know I resemble that comment).  The answer is not out there.  The answer is right here – this business, this firm, this family, this relationship, this country, this town, this God.

“The Road is long and The Road is hard
Spirit’s willing to take the charge
To damn them all with disregard
And to leave The Road for my backyard”
– Excerpt from “The Road” by Michael Marcon


Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC




I Am Alive Again



“Yesterday, I would not have believed that tomorrow the sun would shine…  I am alive again. I am alive again.” – Chicago

Twice in the past few years, I have cheated death.  Now, maybe I really did not cheat death because, in the moment, my life did not pass before my eyes, a warm calm did not come over me, and I did not see a tunnel or a bright light.  I will let you be the judge.

Last week, Mary and I were 3 days into a 4-day drive from Alamo, CA to Door County, WI.  Since I am “unemployed”, we thought this would be a great time for us to make the drive to Door County for the summer instead of shipping our car.  As we drove safely in the right lane of I-80 with the cruise control set on 83 mph (a mere 8 mph above the speed limit for all you “law and order” types or grandmothers), I was closing on a white, Chevy Impala that was following an 18-wheel big rig. I checked my mirrors, checked my blind spot, used my blinker and started to pass both the Chevy and the truck.  It was as I pulled alongside the Chevy that the driver decided to also pass the truck and, without looking, started to pull into my lane.  I slammed on the horn as I looked and saw the driver blissfully engaged in a conversation and in no way aware the she was about to slam into me at more than 80 mph.  In an instant, we were careening down the embankment of the interstate.  I struggled to keep our car from flipping over while I simultaneously scanned the median for roadblocks and waited for the 18-wheeler to land on top of us (I was certain the Chevy was going to “overcorrect”, hit the truck, and cause the truck to crash).  Ultimately, I think we found the only median on I-80 completely free of obstructions and the truck driver maintained his composure and avoided disaster.  After a few moments of driving down the middle of the grassy median, I found a level spot, checked my mirrors, re-entered the highway and we continued our journey.  I had been run off an interstate highway at 83 mph and 5 minutes later was back on the road as if nothing had happened.

A few years ago, in the middle of a terrible bout of tendonitis in my elbow, I was “resting” the injury and avoiding playing golf.  So, on a beautiful September day, with nothing else to do, I decided to clean my gutters.  For several hours, I went up and down the ladder, removing debris and washing out the gutters all the way around the house.  Being the risk management professional that I am, I was keenly aware of the risk imposed by climbing ladders (as my good friend, Tim Turner, once said, “Mike, there is a reason why ladder manufacturers are insured in the E&S market!” (non-insurance professionals, google it)).  At the end of the day, I had one last task to complete – that single, rogue shingle out of line on the roof had been driving me crazy for months.  I asked Mary to get my toolbox as I climbed the ladder one more time to get on the roof.  As I was pushing off the final step of the ladder and transitioning on to the roof, the ladder slipped out from under me and I went straight back (I later noticed that all my fingertips were raw and cut as, I assume, I reached out when falling and tried to grab the roof shingles).  As I was falling, I remember thinking, “Do not hit your head, Do not hit your head.”  I was able to get myself into a “tuck” position and landed on our concrete patio with the brunt of the fall being absorbed by my lower back and elbows.  As I lay on the ground, the ladder and a large flower planter laying on top of me, I wiggled my fingers and toes and realized I was not paralyzed.  Then, I waited to be hit with the excruciating pain that would be associated with whatever compound fracture I had just received.  But, no pain.  I realized – I’m OK.  Of course, calming Mary down when, upon returning from the garage with my tool box and encountering the sight of me on the ground, was another story.  I had just fallen 14 feet backwards off my roof onto my concrete patio and all I had was a bruise and three stitches in my elbow.

In both examples, as I was in the middle of a “life and death” crisis, upon reflection, I was pleased that I stayed in the moment.  I did not panic.  I did not freak out.  I did a mental checklist of what I needed to do to minimize the severity of an event that had caught me by surprise and was out of my control.

How many times in business are we faced with “life and death” situations?  How did you react?  Or, did you overreact?  Did you set an example for your employees, help them stay calm and focused on the tasks necessary to mitigate disaster or did you cause them to panic and “head for the exits?”  It is said that bravery is not the absence of fear – it is the handling fear.”  Fear of failure is one of the most powerful emotions in business. Successful leaders use it to motivate them.  Mediocre leaders let it control them.

There is a reason why our military trains and trains and trains.  There is a reason why pilots are required to have thousands of hours of flight time before captaining a plane. There is a reason why doctors perform hundreds of operations on cadavers and work thousands of hours on call.  There is a reason why athletes perform their task thousands and thousands of times in practice.  And, there is a reason why young professionals (lawyers, accountants, and, yes, even insurance professionals) start with the “grunt work” and do repetitive tasks.  It is referred to positively by the older generation and derisively by the younger generation as paying your dues.  But, what it is really doing is preparing you for that day when, without warning, (forgive me) the shit hits the fan and you don’t have time to think, you just have to rely on your training and react.

Recently, I have been dealing with another bout of tendinitis.  I have been sitting in our backyard and staring at the two top rows of bricks on our chimney that have been discolored from years of use of the fireplace.  It drives me nuts to see that lack of consistency in the bricks.  So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and fix them. Mary was out and would not be home for a while and I had nothing else to do.  This time, I also avoided a “life and death” situation…

Mary had given away the ladder.


Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC.





No Surrender


“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty. Never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy…”
– Winston Churchill

Of course, Churchill just had to fight off the Nazi’s and protect his country from annihilation.  I wonder how he would have handled trying to launch a new business into which he had just invested his life savings when the tech bubble burst and 9/11 stopped the world of commerce from spinning.  Or, how would he have responded when he just got his business humming on all cylinders when the Great Recession hit.  I don’t know how he would have responded when his job got eliminated just as his oldest child was going off to college and his youngest child needed emergency medical treatment.  Or, how he would respond to graduating college with a mountain of debt and trying to find a job in his chosen industry?  Or, if he were a single parent, abandoned by a spouse and faced with raising a family by himself.

I suspect he would have responded EXACTLY THE SAME WAY!

In business and in life, we are constantly faced with insurmountable odds.  The successful executive and the successful person are the ones who do not quit.  They focus on the potential, not the probable.  As we have discussed before, they choose hope and optimism.  During World War II, Churchill willed his country to victory (of course, it helps to have the U.S. as an ally, too).  But, had he not shown his country his will and his resolve to NEVER give in, it is likely that the outcome would have been very different.

How many times in business have you been faced with an overwhelming challenge?   How many times have you not backed down and, even if the outcome was not optimal, were you ultimately proud of yourself for not quitting?  Conversely, how many times have you folded at the first (or second or third) sign of adversity and kick yourself later for not fighting back?  You cannot always control the outcome, but you can control how you respond to the challenge.  As Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture, “Brick walls are there for a reason – to see how badly we want something.”

Those of you who remember the animated Christmas classic, Santa Claus is Coming to Town (millennials, you guessed it, YouTube) had a great song that I literally hum to myself whenever I am at my lowest and do not know where to turn…

“Just put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
Just put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door!”

It is that simple.  Back in the day (before arthritis and artificial hips), I used to be a runner.  I loved going for long runs after work.  One day, I was talking to a much better runner about how I struggled with running up hills.  He told me the secret was to look down, not up.  “If you look down, the pavement looks flat and you don’t focus on the hill, instead you focus on your steps.”  Yup, just one foot in front of the other.

I am currently working on building a new business.  It is a lot of fun and there are many opportunities for success.  It is also significantly harder than I thought it would be.  So, while I hum my tune, I also focus on some great advice my very dear “friend” gave me…

“We made a promise.  We swore we’d always remember.  No retreat, baby.  No surrender.”  Bruce Springsteen


Michael C. Marcon is the founder of M3K Holdings, LLC