As I sit here trucking up a ski lift with my wonderful family, I’m also lucky enough to have memories of skiing as a teen, as a young adult, and as a 20-something year-old bachelor. Up early, breakfast bars in the pocket, boda bag full of libations, and eight hours of non-stop downhill action. I like to think of these day as my “entrepreneur life.” A backpack full of clothes, a baseball cap, and I’m good.


It always looks easy in pictures

And, then…..I got married. The backpack full of clothes was replaced by three suitcases, one of which is used exclusively for shoes. Up early becomes “up early-ish,” as long as time is allotted for make-up, hair prep, and appropriate wardrobe/event coordination. Eight hours of skiing shrinks to four hours…snacks on the lift are replaced with at least two warming-hut sessions for brunch, lunch, cocoa, and photo-ops.

Then, kids enter the equation. Arrive at the slopes just short of Noon. Finish your first run by 12:30. Lunch break. Bathroom break. Lost glove. Boo-boo report. “I’m cold.” Repeat.

I say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but there is a case to be made for this same pattern to be used as a metaphor for the business life cycle.

Bachelor life is the entrepreneurial phase ~ running on adrenaline & caffeine, living lean, taking risks, with your biggest worry being the day in front of you. Success and failure all happen in the same vacuum, with an overall chance of failure sitting just North of 80%.

Marriage is the merger & acquisition; now you have a partner to consider. Poor integration planning can make for a failed new entity; redundancies and waste are eliminated, values and vision are combined (and sometimes compromised?); a new combined culture is defined and embraced. Decision-making slows, risks are more thoroughly considered, procedure and process replace the scatter-shot approach of decision-making. It’s a very scary time for all involved, but ultimately a success based on the efforts of the merging companies. Maybe 50% success rate isn’t so bad considering the payoff for a well orchestrated “match.”

Add kids; now you have employees to deal with (in many cases, disgruntled employees.) Long-term planning becomes imperative. The well-being, safety, and engagement of your subordinates directly impacts your ability to operate efficiently. Discord, lack of communication, lack of discipline, and/or differing messages from management can all submarine your efforts to succeed. The time required to make decisions can be laborious, frustrating, and counter-productive. Risk is very rarely tolerated, as the need for consistency and predictability increases.

This is where companies, and families, can become complacent, predictable, and inflexible.

So as a family man and a corporate man, Ive made the conscious effort to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit in both worlds. Despite the growth and maturation of my family and/or career (is this still making sense?), “success” still depends on those qualities that described a less bureaucratic existence; spontaneity, passion, action, and resolve. I should also mention the pride one feels when they finally succeed in creating a thriving, growing business, even if they are a pain in the arse.

And how was your vacation?

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ movement. May all your vacations be memorable.

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