I am excited to contribute to the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Insights and share our firm’s approach to maximizing leadership effectiveness and company performance. Our “Insights” will describe the methods we use to build and manage high-performance organizations through Leadership, Strategy, Process and People.
For our first Insight, I would like to share the Cornerstone Story I sent to my closest friends, clients and wife on August 21, 2013, a day before my 42nd birthday. The story describes the fears, anxiety, rewards and life lessons I encountered while chasing my passion – to become an entrepreneur.
The Cornerstone Story
My daily devotional really hit me at a personal level. Especially as it relates to what our team does. Six years ago I was with IBM in a great job, by most standards. Income was more than adequate and I had a high-profile job as a business development executive responsible for identifying outsourcing opportunities valued at more than $100 million. During the previous three years I had worked on teams that won more than $700 million worth of business.
During this time, I read a lot of books on planes. One of them was called Wild at Heart (given to me by Tessa's boss in Boulder, Colorado). The essence of the book focused on finding your calling and chasing it with everything you’ve got. We only have one shot at life and there is no do-over. After reading the book I remember coming home from a trip and telling Tessa that I was going to leave IBM and start or buy a business. She was pregnant with our second child, Zak, and was not working. Her first instinct was, What? Are you serious? What are you going to do?
I did not know the answer to that question. All I knew is that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I knew this at age 10. I created business plans all the time, implemented a few, and actually made a little money. That passion continued through college but somehow I got sidetracked.
During college I realized the importance of money and financial security. I graduated in 1994 when the economy wasn’t great. I was fortunate to land a position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The pay was OK, and I thought I was "in the money" since the target salary was $35,000 in 1994.
My ambition drove me to do well in my work. My motivation was focused on money and personal recognition. After five years with the federal government, I realized a government career wasn't for me. I moved on to Accenture, back when it was Anderson Consulting, and became an organizational consultant focused on change management.
Still motivated by money and personal recognition, I investigated top MBA schools and was fortunate to get into Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. I left Accenture in 1999 and graduated in May 2000. I had multiple job offers with great compensation packages. I accepted IBM's offer to become a business / IT strategy consultant because the manager said I could move back to Wilmington. She knew I would be on a plane just about every week.
I did well at IBM, was quickly promoted and had diverse opportunities within the company, including consulting, finance, M&A and business development. Our teams won deals and we were rewarded nicely. I was saving 20% of my income and was on track to retire with $5 million by age 55. I figured I had it made.
Then I read that “dadgum” book and it shook me to my core. My comfortable life was not comfortable any more. Yeah, I would reach my financial goal, but I was working my tail off and only seeing my children during the weekends. If I died next week I would have so many regrets. The biggest would be not focusing on my family and the second would be a missed opportunity to chase my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Today, I realize I would have had another -- not focusing on building authentic, genuine relationships and helping others at a personal level.
During my last six months at IBM, I was continually searching for business opportunities to fulfill my passion for entrepreneurship. I even told a close friend and co-worker, John Sauls, to kick me in the pants if I was still with IBM for another 12 months. John too shared a dream of entrepreneurship and we had numerous conversations about chasing our dreams. I left IBM four months later.
In purchasing The Alternative Board franchise, my vision was to create a boutique consulting firm. So in October 2007, I moved all of my assets to a cash position and gave IBM two-months notice so I could transition the deal I was working. I officially launched Cornerstone and TAB in January 2008.
We all know that was the beginning of the worst economic recession we've seen since the Great Depression. So the first few years were much tougher than I expected. But somehow we made it through.
My passion for entrepreneurship has never been greater and I know that successful businesses must generate profits and returns for investors. I am a true capitalist and love the game of figuring out how to build profitable businesses and maximize return.
I've learned more about life and business in the past six years than in the preceding 36. I have also gained tremendous respect for business owners. Most importantly, I've learned what is most important to me -- to help others and to build great friendships. I've also learned that sustainable, profitable companies do not happen without great teams. Great teams are built with trust, common purpose, candor, genuine relationships and accountability.
So.... now you understand why today's devotional made me step back and think. I'm very proud of what we've done and as everyone knows, I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to serve.
There are many exciting things to come. Our vision now is to become a firm with national influence…
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