Today in Michael Marcon Tweets: For The Love of The Game

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“The one constant through all the years has been baseball…Baseball has marked the time…It reminds us of all that once was good and what could be again…”

— Field of Dreams

 I am a serious baseball fan. My son, Matthew, rekindled my love of baseball when he chose that sport over my childhood sport of basketball. In following Matthew’s baseball career and learning more of the intricacies of the game, I have noticed the parallels between baseball and business, as well as the parallels between baseball and life.

Will he continue to do what has been his life, or, maybe more important than life itself – baseball…”

— Vin Scully, For Love of the Game

Here are some of the things that baseball has taught us that will make our businesses and our lives better…

Run out every pop-up. Assuming the outcome of an event before it has occurred is not a good strategy in business or in life. Not every “sure thing” turns out to be accurate, just like not every pop-up is caught for an out. You do not want to be standing at home plate “holding your jock” the one time the fielder drops the pop-up. You want to be standing on 2nd base.

Pick up your teammates. You see it all the time — a player makes the last out and instead of heading into the dugout, he heads out to his position. One of his teammates will grab the player’s hat and glove from the dugout and bring it out to the player in the field. It is called “picking up your teammate.” How do you pick up the teammates in your company? How do you pick up your teammates in your life?

Never bunt to break-up a no-hitter. There is great quote from the golfer, Jack Nicklaus – “I never told a fellow competitor, ‘Good luck.’ I always told them, ‘Play well.’ I wanted to beat them at their best.” If a competitor is performing at a high level, don’t resort to tricks to beat them. Raise your game and beat them at their best.

Put on your “rally cap”. When the team is down in the late innings, the players resort to putting on their rally caps as a way of generating good luck. This entails wearing your hat inside out, sideways, or any other non-traditional way. The players are not afraid to look silly in the short run in order to generate success in the long run. What are you willing to do in the short run to generate long term success? The satisfaction of long-term success will far outweigh the short-term discomfort.

Never bring your bat into the field. Never bring your glove to the plate. I actually owe this one to my son, Matthew. While being interviewed by a college coach, the coach asked Matthew what made him a unique player. He responded, “I don’t bring my bat to the field and I don’t bring my glove to the plate.”   Baseball is a game where the best players in the world fail (i.e. make an out) approximately 70% of the time. You are going to strike out at some point in your business career. You are going to make an error at some point in your personal life – if you are like me, you will do both on a regular basis! The secret is to not let a singular failure distract you from longer term success. 

Go where the pitch takes you. The pitcher never tells the batter where he is going to throw the ball or what type of pitch he will make. Similarly, in business, your competitors do not share their business plans with you. The market does not give advance warning to changes in interest rates or stock valuations. God does not give you a head’s up before He drops tragedy in your lap.   If the pitch is outside, don’t try to pull it. Instead, punch it to the opposite field. If the pitch is inside, don’t try to slap it into the opposite field – turn on it and pull it down the line. And, when you get one down the middle, Go Yard! In business and life, you cannot control all the variables. Instead, go where the pitch takes you.

“There’s no crying in baseball.” Balls take bad bounces. Bloop hits drop in between fielders. Umps make bad calls. Sometimes, the outcome is not fair. That’s why baseball is such a great parallel for life and business. Life isn’t fair. The outcome is not guaranteed. Business isn’t fair. The best plans and the hardest workers sometimes fail. All you can is pick yourself up, dust yourself off, put one foot in front of the other, and keep going.

“Hey…Dad? Wanna Have A Catch?” In the shadow of Father’s Day, never forget what is most important. Have a catch with your Dad. He will be gone before you know it. Have a catch with your son. He will be a Dad before you know it.

Is this heaven? No, it’s MichaelMarconTweets.com

Michael C. Marcon is the founder & 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.

Today in Michael Marcon Tweets: The Man at the Top

 

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“Everybody wants to be the man at the top

Everybody wants to be the man at the top, now

Aim your gun, son, and shoot your shot

Everybody wants to be the man at the top.”

From the first time I heard this vastly underrated Bruce Springsteen song, I thought he wrote it just for me. It seemed so direct. So accurate. Of course, everybody wants to be at the top. Who wouldn’t? Since my first day of my first job, my sole focus, drive and ambition was to be the man at the top. The question was “how do I get there?”

“Here comes a fireman, here comes a cop

Here comes a wrench, here comes a car hop

Been going on forever, it ain’t ever gonna stop

Everybody wants to be the man at the top.”

The first step? Do your work. There are no shortcuts. Every person I have ever met that has reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession has one thing in common: they outworked everyone else. All of the blessings, the natural ability, the luck, the breaks. — they’re all irrelevant if you do not put in the work.

“Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief

Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief

One thing in common they all got

Everybody wants to be the man at the top.”

 The next step? Find your passion. The path to the “top” is too hard, the sacrifices are too great, and the requirements are too demanding to be doing something that you are not passionate about. The passion will carry you through the rough times. Money cannot carry you. Recognition cannot carry you. Only passion – pure, deep, unfettered love and passion for what you are doing — will carry you.

“Man at the top says it’s lonely up there

If it is, man, I don’t care

From the big white house to the parking lot

Everybody wants to be the man at the top.”

The third step? Prepare yourself to accept the trade-offs. Every meaningful accomplishment has a trade-off. Every reward has a risk. You cannot have one without the other. In my case, the trade-off was 150,000+ miles per year of travel. It was waking up in the middle of the night and literally not knowing where I was. My trade-off was calling my son, Keaton, from a pay phone at Newark Airport and telling him I was not going to make it home in time for his 13th birthday party because my flight was cancelled. My trade-off was a literal breakdown in O’Hare airport on a late December evening at the end of a 300,000 mile travel year.

 “Here comes a banker, here comes a businessman

Here comes a kid with a guitar in his hand

Dreaming of his record in the number-one spot

Everybody wants to be the man at the top.”

 But, when you hear your song on the radio; when you perform the operation that saves a life; when you see your novel in the bookstore window; when you ring the bell at the NYSE; when you see your painting hanging on someone’s wall; when you see your student master the equation; when you hoist the trophy into the air – all of the sacrifice. the pain and suffering, the late nights and missed recitals…

…will absolutely NOT BE WORTH IT unless you have lived your life in service to others – to your family, to your friends, and to your God. Because, it is really about being at the “top” of ALL of it.   I would walk away from every significant accomplishment if it meant not having Mary, Matthew, Keaton, Laura and Penelope to share it with. Don’t settle for being the man at the top of a profession. The goal is to be the man at the top… of a life.

“Everybody wants to be the man at the top

Everybody wants to be the man at the top

Aim your gun, son, and shoot your shot

Everybody wants to be the man at the top.”

Michael C. Marcon is the founder & 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.

Today in Michael Marcon Tweets: Father Knows Best

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I have often threatened friends, family, and colleagues that I am going to write a book someday. The title of my book will be Everything I Needed to Know About Management, I Learned From Raising Children.

I have been a parent for 25 years. I have been a manager of people for about 20 years. The similarities between the two when it comes to the creation of a successful outcome are astounding.

“…but here’s the thing. Business is business. Wall Street, Main Street, it’s all just a bunch of people getting up in the morning, trying to figure out how the hell they’re gonna send their kids to college. It’s just people…” – Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage in The Family Man; extremely underrated by the way).

Or as Spanky from The Little Rascals used to say, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool Mom!”

So, what lessons have I learned from parenting that can be applied to business?

They cry when they’re hungry.
While business colleagues will usually not shed actual tears, their “crying” will manifest itself in several ways, all of which let you know that they are hungry – for a promotion, for more responsibility, for a bigger office, etc. It is the parent’s job to know what type of meal is best for their child that will allow them to grow up healthy and strong. You don’t give steak to a newborn and you don’t use a bottle with a middle schooler. Similarly, each person you manage has unique “dietary needs” that you are responsible for satisfying.

When they sit quietly and their face gets contorted and flushed, you are going to have to clean up a mess.
Nobody wants to admit when they are making a “stinky.” But, everyone does it.   As parents, we need to recognize when this occurs, so we can clean up the mess promptly and avoid rashes and infections. Every employee is going to screw up. The vast majority will not admit it. It is embarrassing. You need to recognize the signs and address the situation before the whole company smells.

I CAN DO IT MYSELF!
Play at the “big kids” playground. Get dressed on your own. Ride a bike. Use power tools. Drive a car. We need to appreciate and balance the need for independence with the likelihood of fatality. We are supposed to know better. That’s why we are the parents / managers. I assume that I know the outcome better than my child or better than my colleague. Yet, they soooo want to do “it.” So, I ask myself one simple question: “Is it fatal?” If I am right about the outcome, will it be fatal to my child or my company? If they want to go outside with no coat on and it’s 50 degrees, not fatal. Go ahead. You’ll be cold and you will learn an important lesson for the next time. If they want to go outside with no coat and it is -10 degrees, fatal. I put my foot down.

But Billy’s parents let him do it!
We ALL know the classic response to this. Say it with me now – “If Billy’s parents let him jump off the roof…” Know your values. Know your standards. Instill those values in your children and your colleagues. They are your True North and they will guide you better than any compass through life and business. Oh, and being forced to take a bath and put on your pajamas before dinner on summer nights when all your friends are outside playing “kick the can” – well, I’ll (uh, I mean, they’ll) get over that, too.

Well, you see, there was… And, then…But, before that…Um, I forgot that…
This is also known as the “Do You Think I’m Stupid?” scenario. From the time that the child can talk, all the way up until their most recent performance review, they are “spinning.” There is always a rationale. There is always an explanation. Remember my favorite saying: “There are no excuses. There are only consequences.” Our job as leaders – of children and of professionals – is to separate the fact from the fiction; the “spin” from the “no spin zone.” It is hard to accept the consequences of our actions. It is harder to live a life or do a job without ever being held accountable for your consequences.

If you follow these simple rules (and buy my book when it comes out), then, you too, will receive the ultimate gift from raising children / raising leaders – the opportunity, in your later years, to sit back and let someone else do all of the work!

Oh yeah, and you get this, too – “I love you, Dad.”

Michael C. Marcon is the founder & 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.

Today in Michael Marcon Tweets: “I’m Not Your Caddy”

Silhouette of Father and Son Playing Baseball Outside“You know, we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”

– Dr. “Moonlight” Graham to Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams

One of the traits that I have been very lucky to possess (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for the genetics; Thanks, Mary, for the constant reminders) is the ability to actually recognize the significance of an event as it is occurring. This ability has manifested itself in countless business and personal scenarios in my life.

Many years ago, when my son, Matthew, was in Little League, he had finished up his game and we were heading to the parking lot. They had just lost a “nail-biter” and I offered him a Lifesaver (Millennials, you know what to do). Unlike my baseball playing days, where we rode to the game on our bikes and hung our baseball glove over the handlebars, Matthew’s friends all had “equipment bags.” The bags, made especially for baseball, held your glove, shoes, bat (in my day, we had two bats for the whole team), batting gloves, elbow protectors, shin protectors, compression sleeve, and a laminated index card with illustrated, step-by-step instructions on the proper way to touch your heart and point to heaven after hitting a homerun. We were walking behind two of his teammates and their fathers. We watched as both teammates handed the overstuffed baseball equipment bag to their dads. Each dad dutifully slung the bag over his shoulder and kept walking.

Within a few seconds, I looked down to see Matthew switching his bag from his right hand to his left and then holding it up for me to carry. I looked into his sweet little dirty face with his crooked grin and said, “I’m not your caddy. If you want all the equipment, then you carry all the equipment.”

A couple of weeks later, we were again leaving the ballpark after a game. Matthew was comfortably carrying his own bag as he had performed the appropriate cost/benefit analysis and determined that the potential yield of the extra equipment did not create enough significant positive cash flow to offset the “carrying cost” — business speak. Ahead of us, one of Matthew’s teammates tried to hand his equipment bag to his dad. I heard the dad reply, “I’m not your caddy.”

In terms of your professional life, setting an example based of your values and trying to live that example works in business. The direct report who you are counseling will benefit from your input and example. The added benefit is all of the others that are watching and learning from you that you are not even aware of.

Many years later, I had two other shared experiences with Matthew. The first was the summer after his freshman year at High Point University. He had endured three roommate changes, having his car stolen, and the diagnosis and ultimate passing of his Nonna (my Mom) from pancreatic cancer. The kid needed some joy. I surprised him with a trip to London with the highlight (at least for us) being VIP seats at Bruce Springsteen’s epic concert in Hyde Park in front of 100,000 people. The night of the show, it rained. It didn’t just rain — it dumped. But over 3 ½ hours, Bruce did not disappoint. Then, just when we thought the show was over, fireworks lit up the sky and Bruce brought Paul McCartney onstage for an encore of “Twist and Shout.” There we were, in the pouring rain, dancing like fools. I paused and looked over at Matthew. I will never forget the smile on his face.

It hit me immediately – I think this may be one of the happiest moments of my life and I am recognizing it as it happens.

In business, as if life, joy and heartbreak do not give you advance warning. Good leaders – and good parents – make the most of each unexpected opportunity.

The last experience happened about a year ago. Matthew – and Bruce – were also involved. I was in New York and Matthew and I were going to see Bruce at Madison Square Garden. I was also in the last frantic stages of closing the deal that would sell the firm I had built from scratch over the past 15 years, Equity Risk Partners, to Hub International (a great partner and, ultimately, a great outcome). While Matthew sat in our seats, I was in the lobby sending out last minute emails and providing final confirmations. I hit “Send” on the final correspondence right as the lights came down and the “Bruuuuuuuuce” rose up. I ran inside and proceeded to sing and dance with Matthew for about 2 hours.   During a lull (if there is such a thing at a Springsteen concert), I stepped out into the lobby for a bathroom break and to check in on the deal. I saw I had two emails. One was from my new Hub colleague and the other from my investment banker. Both proceeded to confirm that the sale had, indeed, closed and congratulated me on reaching the pinnacle of my life’s work. I proceeded into the bathroom to the far stall where, without warning or expectation, I burst into tears. I had put everything I had into building the firm and it all came pouring out. It was slightly embarrassing but I was comforted by the fact that most of the other guys standing next to me just assumed that I was a passionate Bruce fan… or drunk.

I went back to our seats. Matthew, who had been aware of all that was going on with sale of the company looked at me quizzically with my red, puffy eyes. It was Matthew, 15 years earlier as a 7-year-old, who designed our logo. I barely mouthed “It’s done” before I started to cry again. And, then, my 22-year-old son, without a hint of self-consciousness, in the middle of a Bruce Springsteen concert, leaned over and hugged me…and then, patted me on the head. As it was happening, I thought, “I am going to remember this moment for the rest of my life.”

It is OK for leaders – and fathers – to be vulnerable and human. Emotion binds people. Open yourself up to your colleagues, friends, and family. They will surprise you with their support, compassion, and creativity. You may even get a pat on the head!

I’d best be getting home. Alicia will think I’ve got a girlfriend.”

Dr. Moonlight Graham in Field of Dreams

Michael C. Marcon is the founder & 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.

Today in Michael Marcon Tweets: Magna Cum Meaningless

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In this graduation season, I thought I would share a story of my academic prowess. It landed me in a world of ever-increasing responsibilities, compensations, and perks (insert sarcasm emoji here).

From prior posts, you know that I enrolled at Ursinus College, a highly selective liberal arts school. I thought I was well prepared for the rigors of college academics based on my highly regarded college preparatory courses at Bergen Catholic H.S. To quote the famous sportscaster, Warner Wolf (as usual, millennials, google him), “If you had Michael Marcon and a 3.5 GPA in his freshman year…YOU LOST!”

I struggled with my GPA. Balancing athletics (I played basketball), academics, and a social life with my newly found freedom was difficult. It wasn’t that I did not understand the material. I did. It wasn’t that I wasn’t organized. I was. It was the volume of work and the lack of structure. Plus, if truth be told, I enjoyed my social life. Those 8:00 am classes came around way too early. I’ll just get the notes from someone else, I rationalized (this is now comical coming from the person who is regularly in the office before 6:00 am). Needless to say, this resulted in a – how do the VC’s say it? – “sub-optimal outcome with a GPA variance more than two standard deviations from the mean.”

Aka, my grades sucked.

Meanwhile, over the summer between my first and second years at Ursinus College, I was able to land a job working for my father’s firm, Insurance Services Office. I worked in the IT department. This was the summer that the laptop was becoming an office tool. The VP of IT asked me to learn how to use it. Every day, I rode the train to/from NYC with my Dad (in the smoking car, no less). Every day, I experimented with the new computer, the various software packages and their floppy disks (Millennials, you know what to do) – Lotus 1-2-3, Dbase, etc. By the end of the summer, not only had I learned how to use the various software packages, I had also built applications for the IT department and developed training sessions to help prepare the full time staff on how to use the products after I went back to school. I learned that I knew how to create a presentation. I learned how to present to a group of people. I learned to assimilate information from a basic platform into a usable analysis. In short, I started to learn how to “do business.”

Back at Ursinus College for my second year, I had some catching up to do. Having dropped two classes the prior semester, I was 6 credits behind schedule. I decided to make up all of the credits at once and ended up taking a full course load plus two additional classes. That was in addition to playing basketball. I always look back on my life and say that my first semester of my sophomore year at Ursinus College is when I became an adult. I faced my challenges, made a plan, executed it and fixed my problem. BY MYSELF. It was a very rewarding experience.

Early in my 2nd semester, I received a letter in the mail. It was from my Dad. It was a copy of my grades from the first semester (this was back before “privacy laws” and schools actually sent your grades to your parents). I had scored a 3.9 GPA for the semester. My Dad wrote a note across the top that has stayed with me over the past 33 years. It has governed my career choices. It has impacted my management style. It has influenced my recruitment and hiring philosophies…

“Dear Mike,

 You should be very proud of this result. You worked hard and achieved your goal. Well done. Keep it up.

But, always remember, business and life is about interpersonal skills. It is about relationships. It is about creating a vision and executing a strategy. It is about the ability to communicate both written and verbal. Once in the business world, grades don’t mean a thing.

I fire people who had 4.0’s every day.

See you soon. Love, Dad”

Michael C. Marcon is the founder & 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.

Today in Michael Marcon Tweets: “Cheese Pizza, Please”

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My brother, Tony, tells a great story about one the first times his children traveled by airplane. As they were settled in their seats, blissfully engaged in their Gameboys, the flight attendant came by with the snack boxes and other pre-made meal choices. As his two older brothers ordered a snack box, the youngest, Gino, was still hooked on his video game. His brothers nudged him. He looked at them quizzically. They said, “She wants to know what you would like for a snack.” He replied matter of factly, “Oh. Cheese pizza, please.” As if the flight attendant would just pull a cheese pizza out of her cart. The innocence of that encounter always cracks me up.

I had my own “pizza encounter” a few years ago that speaks to managing expectations and always appreciating that there are multiple layers to client and personal interactions. As my Mom used to always tell us as kids, “Things are never quite what you think they are. Always look deeper.”

As many of you already know, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. And while “Chicago style” pizza is known by many to be “deep dish,” I was lucky enough to grow up in Flossmoor, IL, right next door to Homewood, IL, which is the original home of Aurelio’s Pizza (all of the Chicago readers are already having a Pavlovian reaction right now). Even after moving from Chicago to New Jersey to Philadelphia to San Francisco, Aurelio’s remains my favorite. Over the years, whenever I traveled to/through Chicago on business, I always tried to carve out a trip to Aurelio’s. So, you can imagine my delight when an Aurelio’s location opened up in downtown Chicago, several blocks from our Equity Risk offices.

One of our Equity Risk traditions is what my colleagues call “Free Lunch Friday.” Almost since our inception, the company buys lunch for all of the employees on Friday. The caveat is that you have to eat lunch in the conference room with your colleagues. You cannot take the food back to your desk. The idea is to build camaraderie and enjoy a little “mini-celebration” at the end of a hard week. It’s just sandwiches, burgers, or pizza. Nothing fancy. We don’t have our own chef. We don’t grow our own kale on the roof of the building. Our juice bar is the OJ in the refrigerator. But we do come together as a team.

One Friday several years ago, I was in our Chicago office. I walked into the conference room for our “FLF.” “Surprise!” my colleagues exclaimed. “We ordered Aurelio’s Pizza for you!” It was a very thoughtful gesture. I eagerly opened the first of five pizza boxes arranged on the table: veggie.

I opened the second: anchovies.

I opened the third: onions and peppers.

I opened fourth: pesto.

I opened the fifth: cheese. (If you have read my other posts and have not figured out that I have very specific tastes, then you probably did not score well on reading comprehension on your SATs.)

I loaded my plate with slices of cheese pizza and enjoyed a great lunch with my colleagues. After we finished, I thanked them again for their thoughtfulness.

Several weeks later, I found myself in Chicago again on a Friday. As I walked into the conference room for “FLF,” my face lit up as I scanned the boxes of Aurelio’s again before me.

I open the first box: cheese.

I opened the second: cheese.

I opened the third: cheese.

I opened the fourth: cheese.

I opened the fifth: sausage. (Now is probably the time to tell you that, growing up, the only pizza my family ever ordered was sausage.)

I loaded my plate with slices of sausage pizza and began to devour it as if it was my last meal. That is when I looked up and saw all of my colleagues staring at me. Why wasn’t I eating the cheese pizza? They noticed previously that I had loaded up on cheese pizza and bought extra cheese pizza just for me. I commented that, previously, sausage was not an option. Cheese was a default. They only knew part of the story. They had an incomplete set of facts.

How often do we only get part of the story from clients?

How often do we assume we have a complete set of facts?

How often do we extrapolate a few data points into a full analysis?

How often do we make assumptions about loved ones in our relationships based purely on a single, prior experience?

Remember, as Mom always said, “Never play ball in the house.” Oh, wait, that was Mrs. Brady. My Mom said, “Things are never quite what you think they are. Always look deeper.”

Unless, of course, the person just comes right out and tells you — “Cheese pizza, please.”

Michael C. Marcon is the founder & 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.

Today in Michael Marcon Tweets: The Power of Two

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Now the parking lot is empty. Everyone’s gone someplace.

I pick you up and in the trunk I’ve packed a cooler and two day suitcase.

There’s a place that we like to drive, way out in the country.

A mile out of the city limits we’re singing and your hand’s upon my knee…”

Today is my 25th wedding anniversary. I have been stuck for months trying to figure out what to give Mary that would be as special as everything she has given to me over the past 2 ½ decades. Glamorous travel? Nah. We are both homebodies; the highlight of our week is our Saturday and Sunday morning breakfast outings at Mel’s diner. Expensive jewelry? Nope. Besides her wedding ring, the only jewelry Mary wears is the pendant-shaped Equity Risk logo I gave her last year after we sold the company. So, I am stuck.

You know the things that I am afraid of

I’m not afraid to tell

And if we ever leave a legacy it’s that we

Loved each other well…”

What do you give the person you fell in love with before you ever even saw her face? That’s right. Mary and I both worked for CIGNA in the 1990 – her in San Francisco and me in Philadelphia. She was a senior underwriter. I was the home office financial analyst. We talked every day on work-related subjects. Slowly, the conversations evolved into more personal topics. Soon, we were talking after hours. Given the time difference, I used to wait until after Mary had put Keaton to bed (he was three at the time) before we could talk. Some nights, it was midnight in Philadelphia before we connected.

What do you give the person you fell even more in love with when you finally did see her face? June 1990. About seven months after we started our phone friendship, I came to San Francisco for a training session. I get anxious even now remembering how I was feeling waiting for all of the SF employees to filter into the conference room. I stood at the head of the table. I knew it was her as soon as she walked in and took the third seat from the end on the left side. To this day, I cannot recall one thing that I said in that meeting.

“Cause I’ve seen the shadows of so many people

Trying on the treasures of youth

But a road that’s fancy and fast ends in a fatal crash

And I’m glad we got off to tell you the truth…”

What do you give the person who embodies this universal phrase? “You will know when you find the right person.” Shortly after our first date, January 25th 1991 (and, yes, we celebrate the anniversary of our first date every year), my head was spinning. Mary was the first woman I had dated. Prior to that, my only experience was the girls I dated in college. Being a single mom, she had a worldliness that I had never encountered before. She took life in stride. While my head was spinning, her advice was “Now, don’t go wigging out on me.”

What do you give the person who lived this saying? “If you love something, set it free.” If we were to be together, one of us had to relocate. Mary had joint custody of Keaton and the agreement prohibited her from moving more than three hours away or she would forfeit custody. I was on a corporate fast track in CIGNA’s home office in Philadelphia. My family and friends were located in NJ and PA. Moreover, as I have recounted previously, my father thought relocating and getting married would be the biggest mistake of my life. I had never gone against my father’s wishes. Mary and I spent the July 4, 1991 weekend at a bed and breakfast in Carmel, CA. I arrived on my flight from Philadelphia with the engagement ring in my pocket. I departed back to Philadelphia after the weekend with the ring still in my pocket. Mary could not ask me to give up everything I had to come to San Francisco full time.

 “All the shiny little trinkets of temptation

Something new instead of something old

All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface

And it’s fool’s gold

Fool’s gold

Fool’s gold…”

 What do you give the person who actually acted surprised as I drove around Door County, WI on that night in August 1991 – after our romantic dinner – trying to find the perfect place to propose? My life changed when she accepted my proposal, that “I would be honored and blessed” if she and Keaton became “part of my life forever.”

What do you give the person who lets you ease into becoming an instant father and who immediately steps into your family? She helped me learn how to be a Dad. She comforted me during the inevitable “you’re not my real Dad” outbursts (very rare, I might add). My Mom and Dad became her Mom and Dad. She was right there – in a “back up” role – as my sisters cared for my parents as each declined in health. Never once did she say, or act, as if they weren’t her own parents.

What do you give the person who gives you the single greatest miracle known to humanity? Matthew was born on March 18, 1993. I have always told people I have two sons. It is what I believe. The only difference is that I only got to witness one miracle. You can sign me up for that outcome 100% of the time.

“Now we’re talking about a difficult thing and

Your eyes are getting wet

I took us for better and I took us for worse

Don’t you ever forget it…”

What do you give the person that put her career on hold to become a full time Mom and allow your own career to skyrocket? Never, in 25 years, was there a word of frustration over the missed meal, the late flight, the early hours. Always, in 25 years, has there been a welcome ear and an unshakeable support. To this day, I cannot go to sleep at night without “downloading my day” to Mary. I have prided myself over the years on my ability to attract and align myself with world class talent. They have all had an extraordinary impact on my career. But, my single greatest business advisor? Mary.

“The steel bars between me and a promise

Suddenly bend with ease

The closer I’m bound in love to you

The closer I am to free…”

What do you give the person who encouraged you to take the single most audacious risk of your business career without any consideration to how it would impact her? On October 31, 2000, as Mary and I sat at Primo’s Pizzeria in Danville, CA, I told her I was leaning heavily toward my desire to start a new company called Equity Risk Partners. But, in order to get the start-up capital, I would need all of our savings, as well as a 2nd and 3rd mortgage on our house. I carefully explained to Mary that, if the business did not work out (as the overwhelming majority of new businesses do not), we would likely lose our house. Her reply: “I did not marry you for the house. If it doesn’t work, we’ll move into a condo just like when we started out and we’ll build it up all over again. Just go do this, so that you don’t have any regrets later in life.”

“Cause we’re okay

We’re fine

Baby, I’m here to stop your crying

Chase all the ghosts from your head

I’m stronger than the monster beneath your bed

Smarter than the tricks played on your heart

We’ll look at them together then we’ll take them apart…”

I have listened to this Indigo Girls song 1000 times since I included it in a video card for Mary’s 50th birthday. The song just so encapsulates everything about our life together. It’s funny, though. Every time I have heard the refrain, I always assumed I was the hero of Mary’s life – that I was the one chasing the monsters away. After all these years, I finally realized, it was her protecting me.

I always say that the two best decisions I made in my life were the two times I followed my heart instead of my head. One was the decision to bet it all on Equity Risk. The other was to bet it all on Mary.

“Adding up the total of a love that’s true

Multiply life by the Power Of Two.”

So, what do you give the single most spectacular achievement of your life to recognize all she has done for you? It just dawned on me.

This.

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Michael C. Marcon is the founder & 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.