Today is opening day for my son’s high school lacrosse season. The start of lacrosse season has a special meaning to me. He’s now a Junior in high school gearing up for college play, but 10+ years ago when my son first started playing lacrosse, I was in the midst of one of my first Strategic Sale opportunities. I was driving to his youth game and spent the entire drive talking with the leader of a very large and prestigious private equity firm about signing our Definitive Agreement. We were on track to close the Strategic Sale of my company the next morning at 8:00 am. Talk about being excited on an early spring Wednesday in DC – both for my son and for all our clients and employees at the company. My son’s team lost 12 -10 but played well and he spent the evening with friends – thankfully, since it was better I was alone that evening…
When I got back to my car after saying goodbye to all the young boys, I had a voicemail on my phone – THE DEAL IS OFF, IT IS DEAD!
I have to admit, it was a tough moment for me. I was numb! Legitimately numb. And dumbfounded. We had spent over a year getting to this point. More money than I’d like to say was spent negotiating this very complex agreement. We had the press release queued up to send, the announcement to employees and clients ready to go and not to mention a small team of people that were exhausted from working long hours to make it happen.
I sat in my car for a good 10 minutes completely alone – I didn’t reach out to anyone. I just sat there in silence. I was LOST and CRUSHED!
I decided to call the buyer back and listened for 15 minutes of why we were not moving forward. Not a single reason made sense, not even close. But that didn’t matter, they got cold feet and weren’t moving forward.
At that point, I had to make a decision. What do you do when faced with what feels like EPIC FAILURE? You can let it take you down, or you can make a plan and push ahead.
I chose to push ahead.
Now it was time for me to call my wife, my CFO, my outside counsel, my investment banker and all the relevant parties on our side. The email consisted of three things:
- I asked for everyone to process the news quickly.
- I asked that the team brainstorm next steps, actions and solutions.
- I suggested we not meet the next morning as any call would more likely be emotional and reactionary than proactive and solution oriented.
The next meeting was set for Friday morning at 9:00 am.
As you might suspect I couldn’t sleep, all I could do was think about what our options were. Was I pissed, frustrated, upset? Yes there was some of that, but I needed to process those emotions quickly and move on. My job wasn’t to be the leader of failed process, it was to be the leader of a successful sale and putting energy into winning was my only choice. Was this hard? Yes, but negative energy breeds negative energy.
As I sat at my kitchen table, also known as my workspace by my kids, I opened PowerPoint and created 8 text boxes. Why 8? No idea why 8 but that is what I did. I labeled them Option 1 through 8. I committed to come up with 8 options for the company by our Friday morning meeting. I chipped away at this through the night, into Thursday morning, afternoon and evening. By Friday morning I had 8 options and a page outlining each one.
At that point, I had processed my own emotions and needed to be strong for the collective team. I kicked off the meeting by walking everyone – bankers, lawyers, ownership, board advisors, leadership team members and more – through the call I had received earlier that week and then opened the floor for solutions and proposals. As you might expect, a contingent of the group needed to do their own work to process the negative and look for “blame”. Normally I would have shut this down as not productive, but in this instance, I could tell they needed to get it out in order to move forward.
After a bit, I asked if anyone wanted to go through options or solutions they had come up with. Our bankers were quick to jump in with a few, our advisors suggested taking a break and trying again in a year, our ownership group didn’t say much as I think they were still in shock.
After a little more conversation, I stepped up and walked through the 8 options I prepared with my CFO collaboratively. It was interesting to see how the room initially focused on why things wouldn’t work. To be clear, I’ll admit that 4 of the 8 options sucked – not good choices, but they were options. I find that the best way to get to a solution is to put all options on the table, no matter the quality. As I narrowed in on options 4 and 5 it was interesting to see how much of a focus there was on why things wouldn’t work. It was clear that in that moment, they were GIVING INTO THEIR FEAR, UNCERTAINTY & DOUBT.
I knew that I had to be the one to remove it.
I spent the next week working long hours on options 4 and 5, collaborating with the team, helping them to believe in what was possible. Just a few weeks later we signed a definitive agreement with a different private equity firm, one that was much more aligned with the direction for the company, for a successful sale of the company.
So today, I will CELEBRATE my career’s biggest and most EPIC FAILURE knowing that no matter how hard you fall, no matter how hard it gets, no matter what, if you Have the COURAGE to fail & the FAITH to succeed, you are always days away from a win!
And let me leave you with 8 thoughts to consider when you experience your EPIC FAILURE, because we all do.
- Lean into the FAILURE
- BREATHE & take time to assess
- Move ON…..quickly
- Block NEGATIVITY & toxic people
- Stay POSITIVE & surround yourself with GOOD PEOPLE
- Develop OPTIONS
- Focus on a WIN
- Forgive but never FORGET
And just for fun, my son’s team lost on that infamous day years ago, and they won yesterday and my son played like a BEAST – maybe another lesson is to always remember young eyes are watching us as adults when we fail and how we react – so do it for them too!