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!

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


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?  


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 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.

Measure Twice. Cut Once.

New Yankee Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.