This is a guest post by Daniel Newman and is part of The Entrepreneur’s Journey series.
When I was first asked to contribute to the Entrepreneurs Journey, besides being honored, I was also quite conflicted.
Blogging and sharing business ideas has always come very naturally, almost inherent in its nature.
Writing about myself and discussing the personal journey to where I am today, not so much. Nevertheless, I accepted the opportunity because I am passionate about success, and if my journey to where I am today can reach even one person and provide meaningful inspiration, then the time is well worth it.
When I first started writing the journey, I noticed that it was quickly turning into a novel. So many important events that contribute that must be shared. I quickly realized that writing a novel isn’t the goal here. Neither for the blog or for myself. I may come around to that at a later point, but for now I have decided to take a slightly different approach. Throughout this story you will find a series of critical lessons that I learned at different points along the way, and how I attribute them to where I am today.
Where I am Now
As I quickly approach my 30th birthday, (Late May) I currently serve as the CEO of United Visual, Inc. United Visual is parent to three separate businesses United Visual Systems, United Visual Productions, and United GlobalComm. All three organizations focus in the Audio Visual and Information Technology space.
In addition to my work at United Visual, I am also an adjunct professor at North Central College in Naperville Illinois, and I sit on a handful of boards and committees in the industry in which I work. More importantly than any professional accomplishments, I am the proud father of 2 beautiful girls (Hailey 9, Avery 5) and husband to my beautiful wife (Lisa).
The Events…The Lessons
As I reflect on the journey to CEO at a spry 29 years of age, I was able to point to 5 critical events that shaped my path and made me the person I am today. I would like to share these with you as they have been such important moments in my journey.
Event #1: The Surprise of a Lifetime
When I was 19 years old and a Sophomore at Truman State University, I enjoyed participating on the men’s soccer team, attending functions for my fraternity, and occasionally I even studied.
Late in my Sophomore year I was informed by my wife (then girlfriend) that we were going to be parents. She was a senior at that time, and I remember the moment like it was yesterday.
For a split second time stood still. It was upon returning from a weekend soccer tournament she came over almost immediately upon my return and basically just dropped the news.
This moment was life changing for me, it was in that instant that I had to decide whether or not to quickly grow up and become a father and a man, or to walk away from the situation like so many others do.
The Lesson: In all of our paths to become whatever we deem to be success, we are going to have to hurdle adversity. This for me was the first major adversity I had to deal with where the decision would last a life time. Obviously the decision I made was to take on the responsibility, and I can proudly say it may be the best decision that I ever made.
Event #2: The Path of Least Resistance
My father was a lifetime entrepreneur. Without a college education and much parental support to speak of. He built a successful trucking company in Chicago. When I was finishing college (as a father and husband) I wasn’t exactly sure what the career road map was going to be. As many in a family business do, I worked for my father because it provided two things I needed at the time, a job and money. While still in school, finding a career seemed daunting and difficult.
After a few years the discussion started arising about me taking over the business. I was told I would have to learn it from the ground up, but it could some day be mine. After some thought, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have any passion for the trucking business whatsoever, and regardless of the great financial opportunity it may provide me, it wasn’t for me.
A mere 18 months later, my father sold the business and the decision became permanent.
The Lesson: While I do not subscribe to the “You can be anything” mentality, I do believe that real success is founded in doing something you are passionate about. I knew I wasn’t passionate about the trucking business and the decision to take another route provided different challenges, but by entering an industry (Technology) that I was passionate about, my career has proven much more fulfilling.
Event #3: How They Humble Ye
In 2006 I was leading midwest sales for a successful technology company by the name of AMX. I was the first direct hire in the territory and I was driving about 16 million dollars in sales. This territory had long been stagnant, not seeing meaningful growth in years, and I was set on getting it done. A compensation plan had been drawn up where if I hit the target growth of 20% both myself and the company would be elated.
That year we worked tirelessly to grow our business. We cultivated new customers and brought back to life old ones. It was on the 364th day of the year that the final order needed to hit the 20% growth came in. I was so pleased with the entire team, and even more so with myself. At 25 years old I had accomplished what so many others in the past hadn’t and I was paid handsomely to do so.
The next year, the VP of Sales came out with a new comp plan where I wouldn’t be able to earn even half of what I had the year before. Outraged by this, I took the issue all the way to the top. I was convinced that this was a raw deal and that I should get special consideration given my success for the company. I ultimately sat down with the CEO and was told, this is the deal, and there is the door if you don’t like it.
The Lesson: To this day, I do not have much respect for the way the situation was handled, however the event taught me about humility. I genuinely believed that I was above the law, better than the rest, and deserved special treatment. Looking back, I am surprised I could fit my head through the door. Being humble has paid dividends many times over since then, and it will always be a key to the success I have and will achieve.
Event #4: Higher Learning
One afternoon late in 2007 I received a letter from North Central College about attending an MBA open house. I had been vacillating around the idea of pursuing a master’s degree. It wasn’t long ago that I was criticized by a senior executive that my lack of an MBA was the reason I didn’t understand cash flow well enough. (That Senior Executive by the way was terminated in 2008 and is still unemployed today).
While I didn’t really care what others had to say, I have long been a fan of what Stephen Covey calls “Sharpening the Sword,” the process of continuing to invest in oneself to reach higher levels of understanding.
Moreover, I knew that I wanted to make a run for the top, and that the continued education would prove valuable. Anyhow, I opened the letter, I looked at my wife and said, “honey, I’m going to get my MBA this year.” I remember she looked up and said, “Okay.”
She later told me, it was that day that she knew I was going to do it. The program was a 1 year executive MBA and it was an intense 50 week regiment. I was traveling 3 days a week for work and I was forced to schedule my travel and my life around school. The work was rigorous, and free time was non-existent. However August of 2009, I received my Masters in Business, and that can never be taken away from me.
The Lesson: I often minimize the value of the master or any degree for that matter. Mostly because if you lack the intangibles of being a good human, the education just doesn’t amount to much. However, the story of pursuing and completing my MBA is more of a tale of persistence, commitment, and tenacity.
Like so many things in life, you have to make a decision about what is important to you, and if it is, you need to commit to the goal and achieve it at almost any cost. This translates to so many things, but this event made me realize that I can accomplish just about anything if I want it bad enough.
Event #5: Change is Possible
It’s a little known fact that I spent a little over a year around 2003 working for United Visual (My current company). I served in a Regional Sales role overseeing higher education and health care. During my time there, I was successful, but I was also very young, and the humility I mention above had not yet caught up with me. One of the owners at the time (Bob) was responsible for the company’s service department.
For whatever reason, Bob and I got off on the wrong foot and during my time there, we never did find common ground. Upon my leaving, it was for quite some time that I was seen by Bob and some others within the organization as a problem child and that I had left quite a few fires behind. Our mutual perception of one another was pretty negative, however, over the next several years we had to work together because I was a vendor to United Visual.
Due to the continued relationship, forced or not, we had a dialogue and over time we began to better understand one another. It was still a surprise when I received a call from Bob early in 2009 asking if I would be interested in leading the company’s sales and business development strategy. Hesitantly, I agreed to talk. We met for lunch, and we had an amazing conversation. Here I am today, and the rest is history.
The Lesson: Change is incredibly hard, I have seen that in every facet of my life. Having said that, change is possible. People who resist change or fail to recognize it will miss out on many of life’s great opportunities. The fact that I am today CEO for United Visual is 100% based upon a mutual willingness to recognize and embrace change. Bob and I could have decided almost a decade ago that we would never work together again. Today we have a great professional relationship that has been built in trust, communication, and a willingness to change.
My crystal ball is the same as yours – I really have no exact idea of where this journey will take me. I do know that so much of what has been accomplished can be attributed to having a vision of what’s to come with an acute awareness of “The Now.”
Life for me, like so many others has provided great adversity as well as fulfillment. While the events above point to only a select few events that have shaped my life. The lessons I learned from those events have exponentially improved the quality of my life in so many areas.
Whatever the road ahead actually looks like, I can’t wait for the journey.
image: coffeecupcakeTags: daniel newman, Entrepreneurs Journey