Finding Your “Why”
In 1995, I created my second company, a consulting firm in information technology. Much of our revenue came from implementing call center technology or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Those were “big waves” of opportunity during this period of time. Our relationships with JD Edwards gave us a pipeline of business to deploy their software all over the world. Our first company was acquired, and so had almost six years of experience to draw upon.
We got off to a quick start, generating more than a million dollars in revenue in our first eleven months of operation. By our second year, we had hired 30 employees and had as many as 20 subcontractors on assignment. We were off to a good start. Now, however, our youngest daughter had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and had begun three years of chemotherapy.
At the start of our third year, we received an offer from a division of SAIC to buy the business. But with the fear of losing our CFO, I turned down the offer. The Y2K issue was beginning to affect our ability to generate new projects, and then the Dot Com bubble burst, and sales were in decline. The decline continued into 2001 when we all experienced 9/11. During that fall, it was as if someone had “turned off the lights.” For us, new ERP implementation projects stopped. Fortunately, my daughter survived leukemia and has grown into an extraordinary woman today. Unfortunately, our marriage did not survive the stress.
My story is not unique. While there are many good news stories of businesses, it is difficult, at best, to be an entrepreneur and chief executive. The expression “it’s lonely at the top” exists for a reason. It felt like 50 families depended upon our paycheck and that I had let them down, as well as our suppliers and subcontractors. I felt very isolated and lonely, even though I was surrounded by people. As chief executive, you have a senior leadership team, but where do you go when someone on the leadership team is the problem? Who do you turn to when you have an issue with your board? Only the tough decisions land on your desk because they get handled by someone else if they are easy. But all of my life experiences, even the painful ones, make today is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying times of my life.
It took me many years to discover the power of a private peer advisory group to help a chief executive process issues and opportunities. Now that I know, I would never start another company without one. Having a group of impartial top executives to turn to in times of trouble, or even when an opportunity presents itself, is vital to success in today’s complex world.
Simon Sinek begins his popular book “Find Your Why” with the words “The concept of WHY is a deeply personal journey born out of pain.” The advice people gave me wasn’t helpful either: ‘Do what you love,’ ‘Find your bliss,’ ‘Be passionate.’ All accurate—but un-actionable.”
We still live in a world where integrity, experience, and relationships matter. Through the ongoing collaboration of a private peer advisory group, we build lifelong leadership excellence that elevates companies, strengthens communities, delivers meaningful results, and fosters sustainable growth.
We are all on a leadership journey. Through my work as a “Chair” of private peer advisory groups, I have found my “why” in helping others to become better leaders because they are the ones who shoulder the weight of their company’s most important decisions.