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Ten lessons from outside the bottom-line mentality

Reflections on my 10th anniversary as CEO

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

What is it about decades that make people reflect on the past and ponder the future? Although I can’t answer the question, I find myself in that space as I reach the ten-year mark as founder and leader of my company. When I think about what I’ve learned over these years, I realize that it’s no accident that we’re in the business of connecting people, because all of the lessons I have to share are on the human side. Based on my experience, if you take care of the people first, financial success will inevitably follow.

My 10th anniversary lessons

  1. Treat everyone with respect and dignity. Not just your customers. Your employees, vendors and anyone who just happens to wander in are equally important and deserving of respect. Besides, you never know where you’ll encounter your next business deal—or the next person you want to hire.
  2. Be transparent and honest in everything you do and say. It’s the only way to build trust.
  3. Invest in exceptional people. Don’t be cheap. I’ve so often heard people say, “I only want to pay $XX,000 for this particular position.” Instead of attracting the person who could be instrumental in building your business, you lose the talent to some other lucky company.
  4. Values matter, and living them shows that you are authentic. Values-based organizations attract values-based people. We close our meetings by each sharing a story of how our colleagues have exemplified the company values—and there’s never just one.
  5. Always do the right thing. This is not always easy, but if integrity is one of your values, and I hope it is, you must work through the difficulty.
  6. Be humble. It’s never all about you. Customers, co-workers and others are involved, as is the good of the entire organization. (This could be the hardest lesson for many leaders to learn.)
  7. Surround yourself with amazing people as resources. Get mentors and make friends. Choose people who know more than you do or have expertise in other areas, including those across all levels in your organization, so they can contribute to your lifelong learning.
  8. Grow carefully, don’t grow for growth’s sake. Be purposeful. Find a structure that fits with your life and get organized. Make sure you can serve your customers and not overwork your employees.
  9. Take care of yourself, which includes fiercely defending your personal time. As my Dad says, “If you don’t have your health; you can’t make your wealth.”
  10. Spend time with people you love. Most likely, you won’t be remembered for your business achievements. I know my son will remember that I went to almost every one of his baseball games and that we dove together on vacations. Spend part of your time building memories.

My most important guideline for life comes from Friedrich Nietzsche, who said: “He who has a why can endure any how.” My “why” is my family, as it is for most people. Unfortunately, in our culture we often lose sight of our “why” to focus on the “how.” I’ve found that by applying my 10 lessons to both my personal and professional lives, I’ve endured and thrived this past decade. My anniversary wish is that they help you do the same.

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