The Gospel According to Fred

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When my son, Matthew, was born, I received a very nice gift from my Mom that has stayed with me for the past 25 years. It was a book called A Father’s Book of Wisdom, by H. Jackson Brown (FYI – he also wrote the mega bestseller, Life’s Little Instruction Book). The book contained thoughts and reflections on what it means to be a father. There was one thought that has shaped my view on fatherhood since the minute I read it…

“Today, fathers are more like friends, because they don’t have the guts to be fathers.”

I was thinking of that line last week as I reflected on what would have been my father, Fred’s, 81st birthday. As most of you know, he passed away last year. Over the past 14 months since his death, I have found myself frequently quoting him to others, both in business, as well as in personal settings. During this holy season, I thought I would share with you The Gospel According to Fred. If you follow it religiously, you, too, can have everlasting life… in business.

“What the @#$% do you think you’re doing?” This is what Fred said to me as I dramatically loosened my tie, unbuttoned my collar and plopped into my seat to join him on the train ride home from New York City after “a hard day” at my summer job. He “explained” to me that I would never know who I might run into while on the train and asked me if my current sartorial affectation is how I wanted to present myself. To this day, I have never loosened my collar or lowered my tie until I am safely ensconced in my closet at home. As Fred further told me, “If your collar is too tight, then get a shirt that fits.”

“Play to your strengths and fix your weaknesses.” Fred became the Chairman and CEO of ISO, Inc (now Verisk Analytics) by understanding where he had a competitive advantage and where he did not. ISO is a very data driven business and Fred knew that numbers and data were not his strengths. He fixed his weaknesses by recruiting the best IT and data talent he could find – including, at one point, paying a Senior Vice President a higher salary than Fred was making and President and COO. His comment to me was a great lesson – “That is what it took to get the best talent. He doesn’t know that he makes more than me. He was the best person and it will ultimately help the company succeed. And, if the company succeeds, then I will succeed.”“I’d pump gas if I had to in order to support this family.” As frequent readers already know, I focus on the balance between business and life. Too many people are “overweight” to one side or the other. Fred never forgot what his first priority was – his family. He knew that he would do whatever he had to do to provide for his family. What is interesting is that such a characteristic also made him a more successful executive. People who will do whatever they need to do to support their family will also do whatever they need to do to excel in business. If you’re not willing to pump gas, you’re likely not willing to pull an all-nighter on the Johnson account, fly the red-eye to pitch the Smith account, or respond 24/7 to the needs of the Jones account.

“I don’t give a “flyin” about anybody other than the 7 people in this family.” Fred kept his head down. He never got caught up in “keeping up with the Jones”, either personally or professionally. A very dear friend of mine who was a mentor to me during my days at Aon (Mickey C – thank you) once said to me on the subject of keeping his own counsel – “Mikey (yes, he got away with calling me that), when I lay my head on my pillow, I sleep the contented sleep of someone who owes nothing to nobody.” At Equity Risk Partners, I banned the use of the phrase “Word on the street is…”.   I did not care about who was doing what to whom. As I always told my colleagues, “We play offense. Let the other guys figure out how to stop us!”

“You have to take me…warts and all.” Fred was comfortable in his own skin. He knew what he was and who he was. More importantly, he knew what he was not. Being honest with yourself gives you great freedom. He did not hide his uniqueness, he celebrated it. It became a strength because he was consistent. Family members and business colleagues crave consistency.

“He/She is a hustler.” This was the ultimate compliment from Fred. Some people are born with certain skills. Some people are blessed by God with talent that others can only dream of. But, anybody can hustle. That is just will power and determination. Fred had all the time in the world for hustlers.

“This place is a gold mine.” Fred was an optimist. He saw upside when others saw downside (more on that below). He looked for constant improvement, both in his children and his employees. The gold mines he identified were never as apparent to others. There was a line he always used with me as a child that I have often repeated to colleagues that I mentor/counsel – “I have more faith in you than you have in yourself. Until you reverse that equation, you will not maximize your potential.”   The “gold mine” to Fred was achieving your maximum outcome.

“If he is a bad person, just imagine how good you look standing next to him.” To Fred, nothing in business or life was more important than the right values (see Michael Marcon Tweets, Lunch with Mike, ½ Personal). He always approached business and life from one perspective – Act as if your mother is watching.   Early in my career, I was asked to accept a promotion that would catapult me into the upper echelons of the company. But, it would require me to work with someone whose ethics and values were universally regarded as “challenged” (it’s Lent, so I will be polite). I was worried about the repercussions of being associated with this person. I was going to turn down the job and “make a stand on principle”. That is when Fred advised me, “If he is as bad as you think he is, just imagine how good you will look standing next to him.” I took the job. I looked good.

“Surprise me.” Despite his penchant for consistency, Fred always knew he could not get stale. I lost count of how many times – ordering dinner (salad dressing, beverage, etc), on his birthday, Father’s Day, and Christmas (wish list), at the movies (popcorn or Milk Duds), buying a car (color), playing golf (course choice), his answer was, “Surprise me.” As kids, we were thrilled when we got to “pick for Dad.” Imagine how an employee(s) would feel and the creativity they would utilize if the answer to their inquiry on some thorny business issue “fork in the road” was “Surprise me”.

“They just don’t realize that this is not a crisis, it is an opportunity.” This is probably the defining quote of all of the one’s Fred said to me. One day, as we were out for a run, I could tell something was weighing on him. I asked what was going on. He proceeded to tell me that his business was embroiled in a significant litigation. His frustration was not with the lawyers. His frustration was not with the attorneys general that were suing him. His frustration was with his team. They were panicking. The “allegations” were severe. The PR was terrible. Then he said, “They just don’t realize that this is not a crisis. This is an opportunity.” He never lost his wits. He never rushed his thought process. He stayed true to his values and he systematically turned the crisis into an opportunity. The incredibly successful NYSE public company, Verisk Analytics, is a direct result of his actions on that day.

As we discussed in our last post, you can choose hope or you can choose despair.  Fred chose hope – always. What will you choose?

Surprise me.

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

 

It’s Alright

2012 Light of Day Concert Series

We all know that I am a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. How big, you ask? I have been to more than 40 concerts, including one in Hyde Park in London with more than 100,000 people. For grins, when I rent a car with Sirius XM radio, I change all of the radio presets to “E Street Radio”. Bruce and his music have been the soundtrack of most of my life. In fact, the number of shows I have attended should really be added by one more – in 1978, when I was in 9th grade, one of my friend’s older sisters invited him and me to a concert featuring this guy I had never heard of. You guessed it, Bruce Springsteen. Unfortunately, about 3 hours before the show, I “mouthed off” to my Mom over some issue that I can no longer recall. She grounded me and said I could not go to the show. I remember thinking, “Boy, did I get off easy. Who cares about some concert by some guy I don’t know?” What a total dork I was back then! (I have improved modestly since)

One of the things I like most about Bruce Springsteen’s music is the hope. No matter how dark, no matter how much despair the characters have, there is always hope. Being a fundamentally optimistic person, the messages of hope always register with me. No song does this better than “Lonesome Day” from The Rising. Written in the aftermath of 9/11, “Lonesome Day” follows a character struggling with the despair and loss associated with 9/11. Yet, it is the chorus that gets to me every time – especially live in concert when 30,000 people sing it in unison and punctuate with a fist pump at the end.

It’s Alright! It’s Alright! It’s Alright! (fist pump) YEAH!

It’s Alright! It’s Alright! It’s Alright! YEAH!

It’s Alright! It’s Alright! It’s Alright! YEAH!

It’s Alright! It’s AlRiiiiiiight!

I think this is a great way to approach life and business. It is a fundamentally optimistic and hopeful choice. It does not mean that bad things won’t happen. It does not mean that you won’t have bad luck or get a bad break. It means you have a choice as to how you respond to it.

When my mother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, she adopted a very “faithful” attitude. She would say, “It’s God’s will.” One day, we took her to meet the Bishop of Green Bay, David Ricken. We had learned that they “shared” the same patron saint, Padre Pio, of Italy. The Bishop offered to pray with my Mom. While they were meeting, the Bishop asked Mom about her diagnosis. She replied, “It’s God’s will.” He asked her, “Do you want to beat this?” “With everything I have”, she replied. His reply has always stuck with me, “Then, it’s alright to tell Him what you prefer His will to be!”

Choose hope.

Choose optimism.

As we have discussed before, your family and your employees are always watching. Your approach to adversity affects their assessment of the situation and their reaction to it. Do you give them a reason to hope or a reason to despair? Do you give them a glass full of optimism or an empty glass of disappointment? They will take their cues from you and they will not only mirror your reaction, they will magnify it throughout the family or the organization. You only get one shot to react. Once it has been magnified, it is virtually impossible to change course. That is why you must consciously choose to pursue a path of hope and optimism. You cannot fake it.

The other day, Penelope was at the house for a visit (if you don’t know who she is by now, you have to go read the prior blogs). We were playing on the floor when she fell backwards and bonked her head. It was not a big bonk, but it scared her and she started to cry. We held her and began to soothe her. We whispered “It’s alright. It’s alright. It’s alright.” She stopped crying and smiled.

Yeah.

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

I Believe

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So, I am watching Bull Durham the other night and Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) goes into his soliloquy about what he believes – “…high fiber…good scotch…I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone…”. That got me to thinking, “What do I believe?” In case you were wondering, here are some of my beliefs related to business and life:

Let’s start with what should be obvious – I believe that if you disagree with a comment on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, don’t read it. If you don’t like the values portrayed in a movie or a book or a song, don’t watch/read/listen.

I believe in more tolerance and less outrage. And, I definitely believe in less “faux outrage” (Cory Booker for you “blues”; Sean Hannity for you “reds”).

I believe we need to look at intent before we get offended at the result instead of assuming the person meant to offend.

I believe I need to be forgiven significantly more often than I need to forgive.

I believe we need to do “…a little more lookin’ out for the other guy, too.” (Not mine – Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

I believe you should pay more for quality that will last than less for crap that won’t.

I believe the TV stations should stop all going to commercial at the same time.

I believe that, unless you are playing for real prize money, go ahead and hit another ball (That’s for you, Tony).

I believe that the pros get paid to wear logos. The Tiger Woods logo hat, with the Nike logo shirt, and the Nike logo shorts, and the Nike shoes just makes you look like a “wannabe”.

I believe bonuses are not guaranteed. Show up, work hard, and achieve your goals = base salary. Exceed your goals = bonus. Blow away your goals on a regular and sustained basis = promotion.

I believe you need to “pay your dues”.

I believe life is not fair. It is not supposed to be. What you do with the hand you’re dealt is what defines you. God decides who gets what and when. He has a plan and He knows what He is doing.

I believe dogs are better than cats.

I believe all movies should have a happy ending – the guy should get the girl and the good guys should always win. “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

I believe Bruce Springsteen should be the poet laureate of the United States.

Speaking of Bruce, I believe in a Promised Land.

I believe watching Matthew Marcon run from a dug-out to shortstop and tip his cap to me is when I was most happy and I believe becoming a dad to Keaton Cross changed my life.

I believe you should wear a suit to meet clients and you should dress up to go on a plane.

I believe you should not leave mass early, but it is OK to read the bulletin during the homily if it is boring (because I believe the priest has the responsibility not to be boring).

I believe in reading the newspaper… and magazines… and books… in print and not on a computer. Yes, there is more to carry. But, the experience makes up for it.

I believe in handwritten thank you notes and birthday cards, not texts.

I believe the commercial where the grandmother asks her “precocious granddaughter” who is working away on an iPad tablet device, “What are you doing on your computer?” and the granddaughter replies, “What’s a computer?” is obnoxious.

I believe in “real” Christmas cards and not “Shutterfly” cards. Yes, it takes longer. Use the time to think about why we are celebrating the holiday.

I believe my Mom and Dad are together in heaven and I will see them when I die.

I believe Penelope is a miracle sent to me by God at just the right time (see, He does know what He is doing).

I believe you should let your kids do their own science fair project. I want to hire people who learned how to fail and recover. I believe you should let them climb up the slide and slide down the bannister. Yup, they might break a bone or need some stiches. Because, I believe my Nonno was right – it builds character.

I believe Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are the best candy on the planet.

I believe you let your employees try new ideas and fail. Then, you let them try again. Even if you already know that the idea won’t work, ask yourself one question – “Will the outcome be fatal to the company?” If not, let them try.

I believe you celebrate failure as much as you celebrate success. Maybe more.

I believe Door County, WI is heaven on earth.

I believe Mary Marcon is a miracle sent to me by God at just the right time (see, He does know what He is doing).

I believe I am most content sitting in the back booth at PC Junction in Baileys Harbor, WI at 8:00 pm on a summer Friday night with Mary and the proprietors/good friends, Bill and Denise, just talking.

I believe sliding your hand over a freshly planed and sanded piece of woodwork created by your “ownself” is one of the best feelings in the world.

I believe St. Thomas More is the best role model for sticking to your principles and Bill Bradley is the best role model for student-athletes.

I believe we should strive to build great businesses, not just do great deals.

I believe “to whom much is given, much is expected” and that we need to pay our fair share. I also believe that the State of California needs to develop a better definition of “fair share”.

I believe all kids should have a paper route, mow lawns, rake leaves, and shovel driveways.

I believe that I will never drive a better car than when I had my 1984, metallic baby blue, Nissan 300ZX, “legendary Z car”. As the commercial said back then – IT… IS… AWESOME!

I believe that the “professionalization” of youth sports is a terrible thing. Johnny is not going to be a pro.

I believe I have been blessed beyond what I deserve – and I do not know why. I believe, one day, I will find out.

I believe there are no excuses, there are only consequences.

I believe in Hail Mary’s – lots and lots of them.

I believe the U.S. is the greatest country on the planet and a beacon of hope for the world – and Washington, DC needs to recognize that and start acting like it.

I believe in teamwork and “playing the game the right way” – make an extra pass, move the runner over, run out your flyballs.

I believe when you hit a homerun, score a touchdown, or make a “3”, you should act like you meant to do it and not like it hasn’t already been done by thousands of people before you – walk off, last play of Super Bowl, and Game 7 buzzer beaters are excepted.

What else do I believe? I BELIEVE.

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

I Can DOOOOO EEEEET

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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 of M3K Holdings, LLC

Footprints

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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 M3K Holdings, LLC

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 M3K Holdings, LLC

Thanks A Lot, Curt Flood!

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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 M3K Holdings, LLC

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 M3K Holdings, LLC

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

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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