So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye


September 30 marks my departure from Equity Risk Partners, the business we built over the past 16 ½ years. You all remember the Sound of Music song that graces the title of this post. I thought I would depart from the normal Michael Marcon Tweets format this time in order to say goodbye to those who made my time at Equity Risk so special.

As I reflect on my tenure at Equity Risk, I am also struck by another song from the Sound of Music – we truly were able to “Climb Every Mountain.”   This scrappy little company consistently went toe-to-toe with the biggest firms in our industry and we won significantly more often than we lost. How? We built a brand that highlighted our unique and focused expertise. We hired great people. So great, in fact, that I often lamented (although, now I take it as a compliment) that we were the training ground for our competitors. And we just flat outworked everyone else. There you go – the secret to success! No charge (just hit the “Like” button!).

As I look back on my leadership of Equity Risk Partners, it is like looking back at my prom pictures from 1982. Back then, I thought I looked fly in my powder blue tux. Now, I say “WTF was I thinking?” To my former colleagues that are reading this post from the comfort of another company, thank you for supplying my learning curve. Your grace and tolerance as I figured out what the heck I was doing made my leadership transition that much easier. I know I made it harder for you. I hope it was not too hard and that we get a chance to re-connect and get a chuckle out of my cluelessness.

To Bob Zenoni and Melissa Abreu — your guidance, patience, work ethic, and loyalty were the cornerstone of Equity Risk. You helped me grow as a professional and as a person. This journey was much more satisfying with the two of you in the co-pilot seats. Since your departures with the sale to Hub, it felt like I was managing with an arm tied behind my back.

To John Pasquesi – thank you for your faith in me.  In 2001, when everyone said it could not be done, you gave meaning to the phrase “put your money where your mouth is.”  You believed in the vision.  I appreciate your patience while you waited for me time and again to catch up to where you already were.  I appreciate your wisdom in gently guiding me in the right direction.  Most of all, I appreciate your friendship.  To start 16 years ago as business acquaintances and end up as friends is the true definition of a successful investment (along with a hella ROI).

To Josh Warren, Chris Veber, Jason Leong, Jennifer Limjoco, Veronica James and Scott Pachtman – your long-term dedication to the vision and the mission that was Equity Risk Partners gave a credibility and consistency to the firm that was unmatched. I am forever grateful for your contributions to the firm and to me.

To Lynh Rangel – you made me a better leader. Thanks to you, clients, colleagues, partners, friends, and family were all fooled into thinking that I actually knew what was going on. When I got frustrated, you smiled. When I got angry, you smiled. When I was spinning in circles, you smiled. And, when I forgot someone’s birthday, you remembered. You are irreplaceable.

To my Equity Risk colleagues – you are the best. I am proud to be associated with each and every one of you. I can give you the highest compliment I know in business; if I had to do it again, I would hire each one of you in a heartbeat (note to Hub-Legal, that is just a figure of speech). Your skills and work ethic will be the legacy of Equity Risk for years to come.

To Tony Marcon – how many people get to go on a life changing journey with their brother by their side? The failures were much less harsh and the successes much more sweet because I was able to share them with you. They say, “It is lonely at the top.” But I never felt that way because for 23 years, I always knew you had my back. I will miss that. And one other thing – that time when you were 12 and I made you walk home from the gym and didn’t give you a ride? Too bad. It built character!

To Keaton and Matthew – you were there in November 2000 when Mom and I took you out to dinner and explained to you that Dad was going to take a big risk and start a new company. I told you we were going to have to save our money in order to pay for the new company. Both of you offered to give up your Christmas presents that year so I could use the money for the company. You were, and are, why I did it. I hoped to be able to show you that you can do anything if you set your mind to it and work hard enough. I am so proud of the men (and father) that you have become.

To Mary – I am not me without you. You gave me the shove when I was on the fence. You gave me the hug when I was in the dumps. You kicked me in the ass when I was feeling sorry. You gave me the courage to leap and you took away my fear to fail. I always knew you were the best personal decision I ever made. I now know that you were also the best business decision I ever made. I can’t wait to go on the next journey with you.

I will close with my favorite quote from my favorite movie of the 1980’s. Just in case you are worried about me, what I might do next, and how I will handle the next chapter of my life, just ask Billy Hicks (Rob Lowe) from St. Elmo’s Fire – “You’re not gonna believe how outta hand it’s gonna be!”

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

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?  


Mary and I had the opportunity to attend a relatively fancy dinner party the other night. To the guy who views a turkey sandwich and a Diet Coke as the perfect meal, dinner parties always cause a bit of anxiety for me. Unlike “Miss Vivian” (Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman; millennials, google it), I did not have a “Mr. Thompson” (Hector Elizondo) to show me the proper fork to use, the proper way to fold my napkin, and the other appropriate behaviors of high society. I had to learn through trial and error.

As I worked my way through the evening, I found myself stuck in an interminable conversation about this woman’s “precious labradoodles.” Within minutes, all I could hear was the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher (Whah Whah Whah Whah). Thinking back to my trial and error from previous dinner parties, I pasted a smile on my face, nodded with enthusiasm, switched to sympathetic horror when I sensed a switch by her, and feverishly gave Mary the signal to come and rescue me. But, since Mary was telling a group of people all about our granddaughter Penelope’s latest accomplishments — all of whom also had pasted smiles on their faces and were nodding with enthusiasm — I was stuck. I had to manage the situation on my own.

At that moment, I had an epiphany: “managing” a dinner party is a lot like managing a business or career successfully. Here’s how:

Be on time.
We have all hosted events when, at the scheduled start time, no one has arrived. I dare any of you to tell me that you did not think, even for a moment, “what if nobody comes?” The same way hosts like to know that their guests want to be there, businesses like to know that employees want to be there, in the office and pushing towards the bottom line. Executives like to know that their managers want to be there, leading their teams forward. The easiest way to show them? Actually be there. On time.

Bring a hostess gift.
It is always appropriate to bring a small gift to the hostess of the dinner party. It shows your appreciation for the efforts they put into arranging everything. It’s no secret that employers like small gifts too. What are you adding to their “party?” What is your “gift”? Do you bring a small box of extra effort? Or, maybe, you bring a little package of great team building. Some people like to bring gifts of specific expertise. One thing is for sure, the more unique the gift, the more appreciative the hostess will be and the more likely you are to be invited back.

Mind the dress code.
If the invitation says “black tie,” don’t wear your golf togs. If the invitation says “business casual,” avoid jeans and flip-flops. If you don’t want to wear the required clothes, then don’t accept the invitation. Find a dinner party with a beach theme instead. Equity Risk hosted business casual dress codes with a “buttoned down” vibe. Those looking for a looser dress code with an “anything goes” theme, should not join us, but join the tech start-up next door instead. Know the culture of the business you are joining. If it does not fit your style, don’t accept the invitation.

Despite the labradoodle horror story, I have met countless interesting people at dinner parties. Their unique experiences have expanded my horizons, challenged my preconceived notions, raised my hackles, and had me ROFL and LMFAO. You can get the same results in business, but you can’t just expect the interesting people in your organization to find you. You have to seek them. Yes, they will have a crowd around them. Yes, they will be “holding court.” Yes, it will be uncomfortable. And, yes, you will be better off because of it.

Eat what you are served.
I am the most finicky eater. I live in fear of dinner parties serving dishes with mushrooms (yuck), brussel sprouts (double yuck), sushi (expletive deleted) and a whole manner of other foods on the Michael Marcon Tweets “No Fly List.” And yet, I have survived every dinner party I have attended without a trip to the emergency room (a pre-dinner party stop at In-N-Out Burger works wonders, by the way). Just like the recent wedding I attended when the menu highlighted the local southern delicacies (you guessed it, I am not a fan of collard greens), I have also learned that when working with others, you cannot always control the menu. Successful professionals learn how to eat what they are served, manage around the dishes they do not like, and not end up hungry.

Don’t overstay your welcome.
Almost every dinner party I have ever attended has an invitation with a start time and an end time. Remember: after you leave, the host still has to clean up your mess. Know when it is time to go. If the hostess is in the kitchen and the host is taking out the trash and you do not see anyone else in the room, you have overstayed. Most positions and businesses have a defined time frame – a start and a finish. The difference is that the start/finish time is not printed for you on an invitation. Better to leave a little too early than a little too late. Don’t worry, you won’t be missing anything and you will get a jump on the next dinner party.

Write a “Thank You” note.
First, note the word “write.” It does not say “type.” It does not say “speak.” You write a thank you note to the hostess for a wonderful evening, whether it was wonderful or not. They worked hard, expended time, energy, and money in an effort to provide you with a nice event. Always show your appreciation. Hosts always remember who thanked them.

I wish you much success at your future dinner parties. Follow these few simple guidelines and you will find that you not only survived the dinner party, you enjoyed it. You may even end up hosting a few of your own.

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

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 M3K Holdings, LLC

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 M3K Holdings, LLC

Eye of the Tiger


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 M3K Holdings, LLC

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 M3K Holdings, LLC