Today in Michael Marcon Tweets: A Sense of Where You Are

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He tossed a ball over his shoulder and into the basket while he was talking and looking me in the eye. I retrieved the ball and handed it back to him. “When you have played basketball for a while, you don’t need to look at the basket when you are in close like this,” he said, throwing it over his shoulder again and right through the hoop. “You develop a sense of where you are.”

A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee

I can distinctly remember when I read that paragraph. As readers of Michael Marcon Tweets already know, I idolized Bill Bradley when I was growing up. I grabbed my basketball (always beside me in those days), rushed outside, and placed myself under my basketball hoop with my back to the basket. Then, unlike every Hallmark commercial you have ever seen, I missed five in a row.

In my case, I had no idea where I was!

A couple of years later, during my junior year at Bergen Catholic HS, I was unable to play due to an ankle injury. I spent practices on one of the side court baskets hobbling on one foot. I was making some extra money playing H-O-R-S-E against some of the freshmen. My knockout shot? I stood under the basket with my back to the hoop – on one foot – and flipped shot after shot (right handed and left handed) over my shoulder into the hoop. I had developed a sense of where I was. You see, the key word in Bradley’s quote is develop. It does not happen overnight. You have to develop a sense of where you are.

The challenge to young professionals – and to driven, “Type A”, older professionals – is to resist the popular culture’s need for instant results. As I have stated before, every successful professional – in EVERY profession – got there because they outworked the competition. Malcolm Gladwell’s premise in Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something? He could have renamed his book A Sense of Where You Are.

Early in my career my initial focus was on sales. My job was to generate revenue, and in the beginning, I was not very good at it. I remember being halfway through a sales pitch when the prospect interrupted me and said, “Your service is very compelling. We will use your firm on our next deal.” Unfazed – and clueless – I nodded and continued with my sales pitch. After a few minutes, the prospect interrupted me again.

“Let me give you some advice,” he said. “When a prospect gives you an order, stop talking!”

I never forgot that. Several years later, I spend a significant amount of time working with our young sales professionals. They will watch and listen as I make presentations to potential clients. After we’re done, they will inevitably comment on my command of the sales process, the ease with which I manage the interpersonal interactions, and how I do not get flustered by tough questions. My standard reply? “Yup, it’s almost like I’ve done it before!” After more than 10,000 hours of delivering these pitches, I had developed a sense of where I was.

Sixteen years ago, I left my sales role to focus on building Equity Risk Partners. Looking back, I am very confident that I initially set several business world records… for what not to do.

 Creating a brand? Nope.

Attracting, training, and developing people? Nope.

Building an engine for organic growth? Nope.

Managing financial statements? Nope.

I did, however, get up early every morning, work late every night, and seek advice from mentors, advisors, friends, and competitors. I learned from every mistake and challengeed myself to do better. 31,200 hours later (40 hours / week * 52 weeks * 15 years…and, yes, the 40 hours / week is a joke), we had built a business that was among the most respected in our industry, with professionals that were the most sought after, and financial results that allowed us to generate a wonderful return on our investment. I had developed a sense of where I was.

None of us were around to watch the first time Tom Brady felt the pocket collapse and he panicked and threw an interception; or the first time Phil Mickelson tried to hit a flop shot and skulled it out of bounds; or the first time Roger Federer tried to hit a running cross court backhand and whiffed; or the first time Meryl Streep tried to improvise a role with a different accent and sounded like she swallowed helium. No, we only see them now, after the 10,000 hours – after they developed a sense of where they are.

Put in the work. Stay the course. Don’t give up. One day, magically and joyfully, it will just hit you – I have developed a sense of where I am.

Last summer, the floor of the Princeton gym was being resurfaced, so Bradley had to put in several practice sessions at the Lawrenceville School. His first afternoon at Lawrenceville, he began by shooting fourteen-foot jump shots from the right side. He got off to a bad start, and he kept missing them. Six in a row hit the back rim of the basket and bounced out. He stopped, looking discomfited, and seemed to be making an adjustment in his mind. Then he went up for another jump shot from the same spot and hit it cleanly. Four more shots went in without a miss, and then he paused and said, “You want to know something? That basket is about an inch and a half low.” Some weeks later, I went back to Lawrenceville with a steel tape, borrowed a stepladder, and measured the height of the basket. It was nine feet ten and seven-eighths inches above the floor, or one and one-eighth inches too low.

A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee

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: Leap of Faith

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“It takes a leap of faith to get things going.

It takes a leap of faith, you gotta show some guts.

It takes a leap of faith to get things going.

In your heart, fella, you must trust.”

— Bruce Springsteen

I have written previously that the two best decisions I ever made were the two times I followed my heart instead of my head. The first decision was Mary (see my April 25th Michael Marcon Tweets post). The second decision was to “bet the house” on starting Equity Risk Partners.

All the best things in life start with a leap of faith. Who among us is not mesmerized every time they see a video of a child jumping off the edge of the pool for the first time into the arms of their parent? That is a leap of faith. The child has no prior data point, nothing to tell them that they will be caught.

Who cannot remember the first time they swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and leaned in for the first kiss? That is a leap of faith (Mary Kay Lindeman, 1977, Flossmoor, IL by the way). I do not recall her holding up a sign that read, “Go ahead and kiss me. It will be OK.”

Many of us have been with a loved one at the end of their life when they say, “I am ready to go. I am ready to be with God.” That is the ultimate leap of faith.

What is the resulting outcome of the prior examples? A bond of trust with a parent that will endure for a lifetime. The unlocking of feelings of love and caring that will shape all of your future encounters. Eternal life on a magnitude that we cannot comprehend. Three pretty good outcomes, I’d say.

Success in business also requires its share of leaps of faith. We have all heard the saying, “Dare to achieve greatly.” That is defined as taking a leap of faith. I would ask anyone to show me a world class business that did not start with a leap of faith.

Let’s replace all of the candle-lit / gas-lit street lights with electric light bulbs. Leap of Faith. Now, General Electric. 

Let’s mass produce this personal transportation device on a scale that makes it affordable to the average person. Leap of Faith. Now, Ford Motor Company. 

Let’s take all the computing power of a main frame and place it in a box that sits on your desk. Let’s take all of your music and place it on a device you hold in your hand. Leap of Faith times two Now, Apple.

Let’s allow consumers to purchase anything they want/desire without ever changing out of their pajamas. Leap of Faith. Now, Amazon.com.

Let’s build a better internet by harnessing the consolidated computing power of all of the world’s smartphones. Leap of Faith. Now, Pied Piper (Tune into HBO on Sundays at 8:00 to see how that one plays out).

Let’s build a specialized insurance broker focused on an exclusive clientele and utilize a network of best-in-class resources that are not owned but, rather, “partnered” and go toe-to-toe with the biggest competitors in the world. Leap of Faith. Now, Equity Risk Partners.

What’s the best part of taking a leap of faith? Win or lose, good or bad, you get to do it again. Once you experience the exhilaration, you have to find ways to repeat it.

What will it be for me? Like Bruce says, “In my heart, fella, I will trust.”

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: 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

Apple on a vintage report card

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.