Measure Twice. Cut Once.

New Yankee Workshop

As many readers of Michael Marcon Tweets already know, I fancy myself an amateur Norm Abram, the world-renowned host of The New Yankee Workshop and the world’s most recognized woodworker. In fact, I once built a dining table that was valued at $2,500. It only cost me $4,000 in time and materials to build it!

As I was “piddling” (a technical woodworking term) in my workshop over the weekend, it struck me how many similarities there are between woodworking and business, and that doesn’t even include the laundry list of curse words shared by woodworkers and executives when something goes wrong.

Measure twice. Cut once.
This is the fundamental rule of woodworking and business. Unless you have an unlimited supply of wood (or, in my case, an oversized fire pit where I can burn any evidence of my mistakes), you cannot afford to be sloppy in your measurements. The pieces will not fit together if you just “eyeball” the measurements. Similarly, unless you are selling iPhones or Netflix subscriptions right before the new season of House of Cards drops, you cannot afford to be sloppy with your business planning. The pieces of the business will not fit together if you just “eyeball” the planning.

Go with the grain.
One of the first things you learn about working with wood is to “go with the grain.” It makes cutting easier. It makes joining boards easier. It makes sanding easier. It makes finishing easier. Notice a trend? Whenever possible, go with the grain when building your business.

There is a tool for every job.
The New Yankee Workshop is to woodworkers what Santa’s Workshop is to elves – heaven. Norm has a tool for every job. He uses the right tool for the job. Business leaders need to recognize that there is a tool for every job. Yes, you have to improvise when you are just starting out and cannot afford the state of the art table saw. But, the objective is to recognize that efficiency and simplicity are keys to a successful enterprise. Both come from having the right tools.

Sandpaper and hammers solve many problems.
Being a human being – instead of super-human like Norm – means that woodworking projects will not always work out the way you expected. When that happens, a little sanding here and a little hammering there and, viola, it all fits together.   Since most businesses are made of humans – not super-humans like Jack Welch or Jamie Dimon – the business plans sometimes do not quite fit together. A gentle “sanding” here and a little “hammering” there and, voila, it all fits together.

It started out as a table…
In woodworking, as in business, it is important to be flexible and see opportunity in the face of disaster. I once spent weeks building a dining room table. I picked out the logs. I shaped them into fine lumber. I cut all the pieces. I built a strong, flat, beautiful top. I assembled it and… two legs were shorter than the others. So, I shortened the longer two legs to the length of the shorter two legs and… you guessed it. Even though I measured twice, the newly cut legs were now shorter! Disaster? No. My dining table became the coffee table I had “planned to build all along.” Jack Welch talks about running the plastics division of GE when the revolutionary product they were working on did not develop as expected. Monumental failure and huge stock price decline? Nope. They turned the failed product into a new product – Kevlar! It became one of the best inventions of the 20th century.

“And, remember this. There is no more important rule than to wear these – safety glasses.”
Anyone who has ever watched Norm on NYW knows that is how he ends every pre-job safety commentary. While you can never be protected from everything that can go wrong while working with power tools, you can identify those pieces of your body you want to protect. Your eyes are critical. Likewise, you cannot protect your business from every calamity. Know what parts of your business are critical and put on their safety glasses.

And, next time, this is what we will build, right here, on The New Yankee Workshop.”
Norm would end every episode by showing the viewer the finished project of what he was going to build on the next show. I couldn’t wait to watch. As business leaders, our “viewers” are always watching us. What kind of lumber do we use for our projects — mighty oak, glorious cherry, or smooth maple? How do we care for our tools? How do we handle mistakes? What does our workspace look like? And, most importantly, what will we build next? Your “viewers” want to know. Keep them excited with new projects and new challenges.

As for me, what will I build next? You’ll have to tune in to find out.

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.

We Are Fam-i-ly!

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I was reminded of the importance of my family this past weekend as we celebrated the annual Marcon Family Reunion in Door County, WI. It was an unusually high turnout this year. We had more than 75 family members descend on our special summer spot. Our home, in particular, was filled with sleeping bags, kids toys, beach towels, and enough electronics to open an Apple Store.

It was a bittersweet reunion as it was the first one without either of my parents in attendance. They were the patriarchs of the family. That role has now fallen to me. As with most of my personal events, I was struck by the parallels to business. I think there is a clinical diagnosis for people that find the business application in every personal situation.

“Yes, it is called “pathetic,” my wife, Mary, comments as she reads over my shoulder.

What can we learn from family reunions that will make our businesses better?

Celebrate the past
Like families, businesses cannot forget the past. It is the foundation upon which we build. The stronger the tie to the past, the stronger the foundation.

Honor your elders
At reunion time, the “elders” of the family are held in high esteem. All of the youngsters show up to “kiss the rings” and hear the stories. If you learn not to roll your eyes at the stories but, rather, open your eyes to the wisdom of those who have done it before you, you can really learn a lot. It can save you from much pain and suffering down the road.

Build on tradition
Every year, we add a little new event, item, location, etc to our reunion. We don’t turn the whole thing on its head; instead, we build on the foundation of the past.

Embrace the next generation
The next generation is the lifeblood of a family. It is also the lifeblood of a business. Embrace them. Learn from them.

Mourn the losses
Every year, we take a moment before our reunion dinner to mourn the losses of those who are no longer with us. We are sad for the loss of their company. We get great joy from the life they led and the impact they had on our lives. Imagine if businesses did the same thing when a valued colleague departed the company?

Have fun
The family reunion is fun. We laugh… A lot. We need to laugh more in business.   Better ideas come from people who smile (I think the Harvard Business Review studied that).

Thank God
We do not start an event at the Marcon Family Reunion without a prayer of thanks – for our family, for our health, for our good fortune, and for the strength to lead and have an impact on the world. In my book, that’s not a bad thing for most businesses to recognize as well.

If you want to learn these lessons first hand, we’ll all be back in Door County, WI next summer on the weekend of July 28. But, I suggest not waiting that long.

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.

Eye of the Tiger

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I was channel surfing the other night and, as part of the “male code,” stopped when I came upon Rocky II.   For you boys who are not yet men – and for you women who have no desire to be men – the “code” requires us to stop and watch the rest of the movie whenever we happen upon one of the Rocky series. There is one truism about certain movies: there are those that once you get a glance of them, you just have to keep watching. The best examples, based on my taste, are any Rocky Movies. And these – Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore and For Love of the Game.

As I was watching, it struck me how many times Rocky films unwittingly dole out better business advice than the best McKinsey consultant and better life advice than Freud.

Interviewer: What’s your prediction for the fight?

Clubber Lang: My prediction? PAIN!

Success in business and in life involves pain. Sacrifice is a fundamental building block for creating a business or a family. Better to predict pain and prepare for it as a core part of your emotional makeup than to think you can avoid it.

Mickey: The worst thing that can happen to you, that can happen to any fighter – you got civilized.

Here “civilized” is a synonym for “comfortable.” Get too comfortable and the other “fighters” will knock you out.

Apollo: Damn, Rocky, c’mon. What’s the matter with you?

Rocky: Tomorrow. We’ll do it tomorrow.

Apollo: There is no tomorrow. THERE IS NO TOMORROW. THERE IS NO TOMORROW.

This is the boxing version of my favorite saying: if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. Our only guarantee is today – this moment, this time, this place. Make it worthwhile.

Rocky: Nobody owes you nothin’. You owe yourself.

Paulie: You’re wrong. Friends owe.

Rocky: Friends don’t owe! They do because they wanna do.

One of my favorites — you should see me do it in my “Rocky voice.” It encapsulates two main themes.

“You owe yourself.” You cannot withstand the sacrifices and the bumps and bruises of building a business (or a life) if you are not committed FOR YOURSELF. Doing it for someone else will not sustain you during the dark times.

“They do because they wanna do.” We are not in this life alone. Giving to others – time, talent, treasure – is fundamentally sustaining and a key ingredient to a rewarding life.

Rocky: You ain’t so bad. You ain’t so bad. You ain’t nothin.

This is being said while Clubber Lang is absolutely pummeling Rocky with punches. We have a choice when life starts pummeling us. The market turned; interest rates rose/declined; we got a bad diagnosis; your father died unexpectedly – you can look for a place to hide OR you can face it head on. AIN’T SO BAD!

Rocky: Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.

This has always been a consistent theme of Michael Marcon Tweets. Those who achieve great success are always those who have outworked everybody else.

Apollo: He’s just a man, Rocky, so be MORE MAN than him!

To truly accomplish your goals in business or in life, you cannot expect to be just like everyone else. You have to be a better version of yourself. Notice that the exhortation is not to be a different man. It is to be more man. We have been given blessings, skills, and abilities. It is about maximizing what we have.

Rocky: The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. Nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.

Nothing to add, here.

Rocky: Cut me, Mick. C’mon, cut me, Mick.

This is the ultimate example of doing whatever needs to be done to achieve your goal. You will recall that right before that quote, the referee told Rocky, whose eye was swollen shut, that he was going to stop the fight. Rocky yelled, “Do not stop this fight!” What are you willing to do to achieve your goals?

Rocky has taught us many things – work ethic, sacrifice, unyielding love and devotion (try not to get choked up when he reads the paper to Adrian at her grave site), perseverance. He also teaches us that wisdom comes in many packages – the shuffling, bumbling thug from “da neighbahood” is full of wisdom and sweetness. The pipsqueak manager who butchers the English language has experience and insight and strategy if we are just willing to listen. The shy, plain pet shop clerk has the heart of a lion.

If you take the time to learn the lessons that Rocky has offered us over the years then someday, maybe, just maybe, you will able to achieve your goals, look at your loved one who supported you all along the way and shout, “Yo, Mary! We did it!”

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.

Birthday Guest Blogger, Matthew Marcon!

From Mike: In the Marcon Family, we have a tradition around birthdays. We skip the store-bought Hallmarks and make each other cards. This one, from my son Matthew, was too heartfelt not to share. It shows parents that the sacrifices are worth it.  It shows leaders that your values are observed and incorporated.   In everything Matthew does, I’m proud of him.

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When someone asks who my idols/role models are, it’s usually a revolving door of athletes, musicians, and celebrities. But without fail, there is always someone I never forget to mention — my dad. I know it is somewhat cliché to say that your dad is your role model, but in my case, he is.

When I was younger, my dad drilled in the thought of hard work, determination, or going the extra mile, mostly instilled through baseball. The many hours and miles we traveled for baseball games and (showcase) camps are some of my favorite memories with my dad. I can remember the countless times he pulled me into a batting cage or a field to practice. Quickly, it turned from “Matt, stop playing your gamestation, we’re going to hit ground balls,” to “Hey old man, get off your conference call, can you hit me ground balls?” I have taken this mentality he taught me and brought it into other parts of my life.

One of the aspects I really admire about my dad is his journey through his career. Obviously I wasn’t around for the beginning of it, but I heard him tell different stories of how he got to be as successful as he is today. Just as how he taught me with baseball, what he was doing was never good enough. He was constantly striving to be better, get more clients, and make his company bigger, more successful. In my own career, I am constantly striving to be more like my dad. I want to be as successful as my dad, be as known and well respected in my field just like my dad.

Over my 24 years, I know I have taken advantage of all of the things my dad has done for me. There are probably even things he’s done that I don’t know about. He might have protected me from aliens by promising his organs to them to study after he dies in return for my safety! What a guy… But I do know that my dad was at all of my baseball games, except one (one of my best ones). I have never had an important life event where I can’t remember my dad being there. Even during the times when he was traveling back and forth from California to Wisconsin, he was always able to make every sporting event. I felt a calming reassurance before every game being able to look into the stands, see my dad and tip my cap.

I am constantly thinking about how much my dad has done for me and it’s impossible to sum up in one post. I try to come up with ways to repay or thank him for everything he has done for me. The only thing I can do is take all of the experiences and knowledge he has given me and apply it. As I think about my future and how I envision it, I want to be able to be there and present for my children and watch them tip their cap at me.

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.

A Sense of Where You Are

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He tossed a ball over his shoulder and into the basket while he was talking and looking me in the eye. I retrieved the ball and handed it back to him. “When you have played basketball for a while, you don’t need to look at the basket when you are in close like this,” he said, throwing it over his shoulder again and right through the hoop. “You develop a sense of where you are.”

A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee

I can distinctly remember when I read that paragraph. As readers of Michael Marcon Tweets already know, I idolized Bill Bradley when I was growing up. I grabbed my basketball (always beside me in those days), rushed outside, and placed myself under my basketball hoop with my back to the basket. Then, unlike every Hallmark commercial you have ever seen, I missed five in a row.

In my case, I had no idea where I was!

A couple of years later, during my junior year at Bergen Catholic HS, I was unable to play due to an ankle injury. I spent practices on one of the side court baskets hobbling on one foot. I was making some extra money playing H-O-R-S-E against some of the freshmen. My knockout shot? I stood under the basket with my back to the hoop – on one foot – and flipped shot after shot (right handed and left handed) over my shoulder into the hoop. I had developed a sense of where I was. You see, the key word in Bradley’s quote is develop. It does not happen overnight. You have to develop a sense of where you are.

The challenge to young professionals – and to driven, “Type A”, older professionals – is to resist the popular culture’s need for instant results. As I have stated before, every successful professional – in EVERY profession – got there because they outworked the competition. Malcolm Gladwell’s premise in Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something? He could have renamed his book A Sense of Where You Are.

Early in my career my initial focus was on sales. My job was to generate revenue, and in the beginning, I was not very good at it. I remember being halfway through a sales pitch when the prospect interrupted me and said, “Your service is very compelling. We will use your firm on our next deal.” Unfazed – and clueless – I nodded and continued with my sales pitch. After a few minutes, the prospect interrupted me again.

“Let me give you some advice,” he said. “When a prospect gives you an order, stop talking!”

I never forgot that. Several years later, I spend a significant amount of time working with our young sales professionals. They will watch and listen as I make presentations to potential clients. After we’re done, they will inevitably comment on my command of the sales process, the ease with which I manage the interpersonal interactions, and how I do not get flustered by tough questions. My standard reply? “Yup, it’s almost like I’ve done it before!” After more than 10,000 hours of delivering these pitches, I had developed a sense of where I was.

Sixteen years ago, I left my sales role to focus on building Equity Risk Partners. Looking back, I am very confident that I initially set several business world records… for what not to do.

 Creating a brand? Nope.

Attracting, training, and developing people? Nope.

Building an engine for organic growth? Nope.

Managing financial statements? Nope.

I did, however, get up early every morning, work late every night, and seek advice from mentors, advisors, friends, and competitors. I learned from every mistake and challengeed myself to do better. 31,200 hours later (40 hours / week * 52 weeks * 15 years…and, yes, the 40 hours / week is a joke), we had built a business that was among the most respected in our industry, with professionals that were the most sought after, and financial results that allowed us to generate a wonderful return on our investment. I had developed a sense of where I was.

None of us were around to watch the first time Tom Brady felt the pocket collapse and he panicked and threw an interception; or the first time Phil Mickelson tried to hit a flop shot and skulled it out of bounds; or the first time Roger Federer tried to hit a running cross court backhand and whiffed; or the first time Meryl Streep tried to improvise a role with a different accent and sounded like she swallowed helium. No, we only see them now, after the 10,000 hours – after they developed a sense of where they are.

Put in the work. Stay the course. Don’t give up. One day, magically and joyfully, it will just hit you – I have developed a sense of where I am.

Last summer, the floor of the Princeton gym was being resurfaced, so Bradley had to put in several practice sessions at the Lawrenceville School. His first afternoon at Lawrenceville, he began by shooting fourteen-foot jump shots from the right side. He got off to a bad start, and he kept missing them. Six in a row hit the back rim of the basket and bounced out. He stopped, looking discomfited, and seemed to be making an adjustment in his mind. Then he went up for another jump shot from the same spot and hit it cleanly. Four more shots went in without a miss, and then he paused and said, “You want to know something? That basket is about an inch and a half low.” Some weeks later, I went back to Lawrenceville with a steel tape, borrowed a stepladder, and measured the height of the basket. It was nine feet ten and seven-eighths inches above the floor, or one and one-eighth inches too low.

A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee

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.

 

Leap of Faith

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“It takes a leap of faith to get things going.

It takes a leap of faith, you gotta show some guts.

It takes a leap of faith to get things going.

In your heart, fella, you must trust.”

— Bruce Springsteen

I have written previously that the two best decisions I ever made were the two times I followed my heart instead of my head. The first decision was Mary (see my April 25th post). The second decision was to “bet the house” on starting Equity Risk Partners.

All the best things in life start with a leap of faith. Who among us is not mesmerized every time they see a video of a child jumping off the edge of the pool for the first time into the arms of their parent? That is a leap of faith. The child has no prior data point, nothing to tell them that they will be caught.

Who cannot remember the first time they swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and leaned in for the first kiss? That is a leap of faith (Mary Kay Lindeman, 1977, Flossmoor, IL by the way). I do not recall her holding up a sign that read, “Go ahead and kiss me. It will be OK.”

Many of us have been with a loved one at the end of their life when they say, “I am ready to go. I am ready to be with God.” That is the ultimate leap of faith.

What is the resulting outcome of the prior examples? A bond of trust with a parent that will endure for a lifetime. The unlocking of feelings of love and caring that will shape all of your future encounters. Eternal life on a magnitude that we cannot comprehend. Three pretty good outcomes, I’d say.

Success in business also requires its share of leaps of faith. We have all heard the saying, “Dare to achieve greatly.” That is defined as taking a leap of faith. I would ask anyone to show me a world class business that did not start with a leap of faith.

Let’s replace all of the candle-lit / gas-lit street lights with electric light bulbs. Leap of Faith. Now, General Electric. 

Let’s mass produce this personal transportation device on a scale that makes it affordable to the average person. Leap of Faith. Now, Ford Motor Company. 

Let’s take all the computing power of a main frame and place it in a box that sits on your desk. Let’s take all of your music and place it on a device you hold in your hand. Leap of Faith times two Now, Apple.

Let’s allow consumers to purchase anything they want/desire without ever changing out of their pajamas. Leap of Faith. Now, Amazon.com.

Let’s build a better internet by harnessing the consolidated computing power of all of the world’s smartphones. Leap of Faith. Now, Pied Piper (Tune into HBO on Sundays at 8:00 to see how that one plays out).

Let’s build a specialized insurance broker focused on an exclusive clientele and utilize a network of best-in-class resources that are not owned but, rather, “partnered” and go toe-to-toe with the biggest competitors in the world. Leap of Faith. Now, Equity Risk Partners.

What’s the best part of taking a leap of faith? Win or lose, good or bad, you get to do it again. Once you experience the exhilaration, you have to find ways to repeat it.

What will it be for me? Like Bruce says, “In my heart, fella, I will trust.”

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.