I Can DOOOOO EEEEET

kids-learning-to-tie-shoe-laces-later-than-ever-studies-show

As many of you know, I have been thoroughly enjoying my time with my almost one-year old granddaughter, Penelope. She is a daily reminder of the miracle of life. Watching her explore, develop, and learn is endlessly fascinating. I lose track of time when I am playing with her.

One of the great things about being a grandparent are the memories that resurface from when I raised my own children, Keaton and Matthew. Mary and I now find ourselves constantly saying, “Remember that time when Keaton…” or “It was so funny when Matthew…” It seems like those moments just happened yesterday, instead of 20+ years ago.

I was thinking about this recently as I work through THE NEXT CHAPTER. That is the reference everyone uses, The Next Chapter, when referring to the unknown direction my life will take following my departure from Equity Risk. It is as if The Next Chapter is an actual being – “How’s it going with The Next Chapter?”; “What’s up with The Next Chapter?”; I can’t wait to meet The Next Chapter!”

When he was little, Matthew was incredibly independent. He always had to try new things and he had to figure them out for himself. Mary and I would watch him struggle with something and, like all parents, tried to help him out. He would respond with a very loud and direct, “I can do it” that came out as “I CAN DOOOOO EEEEET!

I can appreciate that sentiment now more than ever. Having built a business from the ground up that was financed, in part, by using our house as collateral, I used that phrase A LOT! The only difference between me and Matthew is that he shouted it to anyone who tried to help him, and I whispered it to myself when I did not know where to turn next.

As I explore my options for “TNC”, I have reflected on what, exactly, was the fundamental draw and excitement about building Equity Risk. I have determined that it was the fear of failure. Betting your house is a powerful motivator. I never felt more alive than when I had “bet it all”. Now, the challenge is how to replicate that feeling this go ‘round, since the last bet paid off and that form of motivation is not the same.

I have concluded that the fear of failure needs to be replaced with a vertical learning curve. Success and achievement do not end with your first accomplishment or taste of victory. You need to continue to push yourself and challenge yourself to test your limits. I don’t want something that will just get me out a bed in the morning. No, I want something so challenging that it will keep me from going to bed at night!

I was approached the other day by some investors that were interested in having me replicate the success we had with Equity Risk. As I considered the offer (legal obligations notwithstanding), I thought “This will work; This will make a lot of money; I know how to do this; I could do it in my sleep.” Then, it hit me. I had my answer. If I can “do it in my sleep”, it is certainly not a challenge that will keep me from “going to bed at night.”

So, I will keep looking. I encourage you to keep looking, too. If you can “do it in your sleep”, then you are sleeping through life. You have no idea what you can accomplish if you just keep trying new things – you may learn to tie your shoes, or brush your teeth, or cut your food, or pour your own milk from the big, gallon carton… or, start the business / career / relationship of your dreams. Once I find that opportunity – the one that will keep me up at night – you can rest assured that I will jump into it with 100% commitment secure in the knowledge that I Can DOOOOO EEEEET!

Michael C. Marcon is the founder and Managing Member of M3K Holdings, Chairman of The Marcon Foundation, founder and former CEO 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.

Footprints

sea-beach-holiday-vacation.jpg

One night, a man dreamed he was walking along the beach with God. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For many scenes, he saw two sets of footprints – one belonging to him and the other to God.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life, there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of his life.

This really bothered him and he questioned God.

“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But, I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed you most, you would leave me.”

Then, God replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you! During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

I am sure that the vast majority of you are familiar with this iconic poem. The powerful visual has sustained me for most of my adult life. In fact, I am so moved by it that my wife, Mary, and I use “Footprints in the Snow” as the cover of our Christmas card every year.

It is comforting to know that we have help and that we are not all alone, just “us against the world.” This is also very important in leadership and in business. I am not saying good leaders are God (even though many of us think so). I am saying that good leaders sometimes have to carry their people. It is no different than the dad running behind the bike, one hand on the seat, as his child peddles away for the first time. The child thinks they are peddling on their own. That gives them the confidence to keep going. In business, how important is it for leaders to create the sense of self confidence in their people; to let them believe they can peddle on their own? Once they learn that you’ve “got them,” they will be more confident to take risks and more likely to exceed expectations.

Interestingly, I believe that the important part of the poem is not that God carries all of us when we need Him; it is that we do not realize it until after the fact when we’ve reviewed the scenes of our lives. This is also the secret to great leadership – that your colleagues do not realize they are being carried until after the fact. Good leaders carry their people when they need it and without them knowing. Great leaders create an organization full of people who are constantly carrying each other.

Recently, a dear friend, knowing my affinity for “Footprints in the Snow,” sent me a funny cartoon with a unique spin on the poem. In the cartoon, God says to the man , “Do you see the single set of footprints? That is where I carried you. Do you see the two long parallel grooves? That is where I dragged you kicking and screaming.”

Every now and then, leaders need to realize when running behind the bike holding the seat is not enough. In those cases, you put your head down, grab ‘em by the (proverbial) collar, and drag them to the right decision.

So, how do you become a great leader? Let me tell you a story…

One day, an attractive, incredibly fit, and successful (and modest) middle-aged man dreamed he was walking down a beach.

Before him passed scenes of all his personal and business achievements. He saw many scenes of tremendous professional and personal success. He also saw scenes of less great achievements, mediocre results, and personal failures. 

He was pleased by the scenes of great achievement and troubled by the scenes of personal failure. He remembered each day and its corresponding success or failure as if it were yesterday. He also noticed a pattern. All the days he failed personally or professionally, he was alone on the beach. 

And, on all the days of his greatest personal and business successes, he saw a familiar face. One day, it was his Dad; on another, it was his Mom; on more days than he could count, it was Mary. He saw friends, mentors, teachers and priests. He saw bosses and colleagues. He saw Matthew, Keaton, Laura, and Penelope; he saw David and Nat; he saw his family; he saw his brothers and sisters.

 Then, he saw God (who bears a strong resemblance to Pat Ryan and sounds like the guy from NFL Films) and the man asked, “I see all of these scenes of great joy and success shared with all of the people who are important to me. I also see scenes of disappointment and failure where I was all alone. Why didn’t you help me then?”

 God replied, “My son, you have accomplished so much and achieved great things and I sent all of these people to help you. The days that you were alone were the days that you did not ask for help.”

Great leaders learn that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of faith and maturity.

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.

Happy Birthday, Mary Marcon

On this day in 1957, I was not even a glint in my parents’ eyes.  On this day in 1957, the 5th of Howard and Kate Dutle’s seven children, Mary Jane, was born.  For the next 60 years, she became a faithful daughter, supportive sister, loyal friend, successful business woman, devoted aunt and sister-in-law, loving mother and “Nonna.”  She also became my “Everything.”  Happy Birthday, Mary.  Love, Michael.

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.

Thanks A Lot, Curt Flood!

CURT_FLOOD_1080_wlio8v4v_pk67i64h.jpg
Courtesy of AP & MLB

The past several weeks have been very interesting. I have enjoyed my status as a “free agent.” I have taken the opportunity to meet with former competitors and colleagues, potential investors and partners, and a whole host of others. While all discussions were with different people, the majority of the conversation was the same.

Of course, the best part was the fact that they all picked up the check due to my status as UNEMPLOYED!

Back to the conversation: in the financial services industry, you create job security for yourself through one of two main avenues. Either you (a) possess unique industry or product line expertise, or (b) you “control” / generate revenue through the acquisition and retention of client relationships.   I have spent most of my career focused more on (b). I have the ability to attract and retain clients.

Over the past several weeks, I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day as I was subjected to the same questions over and over again. (And, unfortunately, I did not get to hook up with Andie McDowell at the end!) Every professional that I met with asked many questions, but the top three were all the same:

  • What do you currently earn?
  • How big is your book of business? (i.e. How many clients do you have? How much revenue do they generate?)
  • How many clients / how much revenue can you move from your current employer to us?

While this is not surprising at all, it is also extremely disappointing. It completely mirrors my own experience as a hiring manager at Equity Risk when I was competing for talent with other firms.

As I look for my next partner, my goal is to find one that aligns with one of the guiding principles of my life, which I have tried very hard to uphold…

“Right is always right, even if everyone else is against it.

Wrong is always wrong, even if everyone else is for it.”

— William Penn

If not 100%, then very close to 100%, of the professionals that fall under the third item above (i.e. professionals who attract/retain clients/revenue) are governed through some form of a non-compete / non-solicit agreement. I always thought there were only two answers to the question, “Do you have a non-compete?” It was either “Yes” or “No”.

Unfortunately, there is a very popular third answer – “Yes, but it is unenforceable.” Then, the person proceeds to make the case for all the loopholes in the agreement — how the clients have a right to choose who services them, how their current employer cannot prevent them from earning a living, how, per George Costanza, yada yada yada.

I recognize that many of these reasons highlight why an agreement may not, in fact, be legally enforceable. But, here is my position: the agreement is MORALLY enforceable. You signed your name to it. Does that not stand for something? The lengths that people will go to in order to rationalize why they can violate an agreement they signed will never cease to amaze me.

I use the answer to the question, “Do you have a non-compete?” as a very important standard when hiring a prospective “revenue generator.” “Yes” or “No” are completely fine and reasonable answers for me. If the person I am interviewing is the best person for the job, fits our culture, and will be value added OVER THE LONG TERM, then we can work with either answer. “Yes, but” earns the person a quick “Thanks for your time” from me for one very simple reason – what they are about to do to their current employer, they will likely do to me at some point.

As Maya Angelou famously wrote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Building a business for the long-term is hard. Avoiding the short cuts is hard. Resisting the temptation for quick results and short-term glory requires self-confidence, focus, strength, and a great board of directors who will kick you in the ass when you start to falter.

I once put three corporate logos up on a screen at one of the Equity Risk Partners’ annual meetings. They were Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. I asked my colleagues what the thread was among the logos. The answer…

Approximately 100 years ago, each one of these companies was just TWO GUYS. Client by client, office by office, hire by hire, dollar by dollar, they plugged away. No short cuts. 100 years later, they are world class, Fortune 500 businesses.

 Would you like to join me on my next adventure? Then, in the words of the great country singer, George Strait – “Check Yes or No”.

Note: For those of you that do not know, in 1969, as an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, Curt Flood became one of the pivotal figures in sport’s history when he refused to accept a trade, ultimately appealing his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although his legal challenge was unsuccessful, it began the process which ultimately led to what we now know as free agency.

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.

Are We There Yet?

Frosty the snowman Karen and Hocus boaring the train

Thank you to many of you for your kind words and good wishes as I announced my departure from Equity Risk Partners several weeks ago. When you are singularly focused on what you are building, you sometimes wonder if anyone is paying attention to how you are building. I was very flattered to see by the comments that many people were paying attention to the values we espoused, as well as the results we achieved. For all of you future business leaders, it is the combination of achieving both objectives that is the true measure of success.

After the compliments and good wishes, by far the most frequent comment I received was, “What are you going to do next?” I am happy to announce that, as David Letterman once said, “I am hopelessly lost. But, I AM making good time!”

Over the past year, I have shared with you many of the lessons I have learned over now 30 years (OMG!) in business. Hopefully, those lessons are ones that you can apply to your own careers and families. If I have saved you one extra career step or one less family heartbreak, it will have been worth it. Now, going forward, I thought I would take you on my journey.

I have now entered uncharted territory. Instead of sharing with you the lessons that I have learned, you will now watch me learn new lessons in real time. If that is of interest to you, I would like to hear your thoughts. If not, just delete the updates from your LinkedIn and Twitter feeds (it certainly won’t be the first time someone deleted my tweets). I have spent 30 years honing my craft, sharpening my skills, and preparing mentally and physically for the challenge. Now, it is time to find El Dorado, The Lost City of Z (great book, BTW. I highly recommend it). Our journey for the buried treasure should be an interesting one filled with mistakes made, lessons learned, and hopefully, goals achieved. If we get there, we can all exclaim the immortal words of Daffy Duck when he beat Bugs Bunny to the Sultan’s treasure: “I’m rich! I’m rich! I’m a wealthy miser!”

So, to borrow from the end of every episode of Morning Joe, what have we learned?

First, nobody ever tells the dog what to do if he ever actually catches the car. It is one of business’s – and life’s – great contradictions. If you spend your time planning for what you will do once you achieve your goal, you will likely not achieve your goal. You just have to have the faith and confidence that the skills, blessings, and luck that allowed you to achieve your goal the first time are not part of a “zero sum game” and will sustain you on your next journey.

Second, the vast majority of people that give you (well intentioned and well meaning) advice about how to handle the transition period usually have no practical experience with what you are going through. If I had a dollar every time someone told me to “take a break” or “enjoy the time off,” I would be able to afford San Francisco real estate!

They do not realize that is precisely the opposite. Achievers achieve. Builders build. Sharks invest money in people with poor business plans on TV. (Except ARod. What’s the deal with adding him to show?)

Third, I have noticed a direct correlation between the advice I receive on what to do next and what is in the best interest of the person offering the advice. “Our special tonight is the veal marsala in white wine sauce. The chef highly recommends it.” What’s not said: “Last night’s veal scaloppini was a bust and I need to get rid of all of this veal before it goes bad.”   The challenge is to stay true to your values, your goals, and your objectives. Being swayed by others’ needs and desires is not a recipe for success. As the greatest management consultant in history, Bruce Springsteen, once said, “You’re going to end up just another lonely ticket sold, crying and alone in the theater as the credits roll. I won’t be like those other guys who filled your head with pretty lies and dreams that won’t ever come true. You be true to me, and I’ll be true to you.” And, you thought Bruce was singing about girls?

I invite you on my journey.

“Grab your ticket and your suitcase, thunder’s rolling down the tracks

You don’t know where you’re goin’ now, but you know you won’t be back

Darlin’ if you’re weary lay your head upon my chest

We’ll take what we can carry and we’ll leave the rest

Big wheels rolling through fields where sunlight streams

Meet me in a land of hope and dreams.”

— Bruce Springsteen

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.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

Startseitenbild_maria-on-the-hill.jpg

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 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.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?  

pexels-photo-395134.jpg

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.

Mingle.
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 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.