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Seven lessons learned in 10 years of business

May marked Altitude’s 10th birthday.

Co-founding and co-leading Altitude Marketing has been far from textbook.

Rarely does a day go by where I don’t think about writing the book about the ups, the downs, the lessons learned, the growth, the characters, the wins, the losses, the stress, the joy, the patterns that repeat themselves, the feeling of freedom and the relentless draining on my limited mindshare ...

Still, despite being knocked down more than an underdog at an MMA bout, I would do it all over again.

And, over the last decade, I’ve learned. A lot.

Here are my seven biggest, most important takeaways that any business leader can appreciate:

Don’t be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you. Look for employees who have fire in the belly and a commitment to doing excellent work.

Jack Welsh was on to something when he said the bottom 10 percent need to go every year. There’s no room for mediocrity in a small business. Your clients will sniff it out, your competitors will pounce on it and the rest of your team will resent having to pull dead weight.

If you only look at the bottom line, you’re measuring the wrong thing.

Focus first on your employees. Make them feel like they’re part of something.

Give everyone a voice. Manage to their strengths. Reward risk. Accept mistakes. Treat them as you want to be treated.

In turn, they will treat clients better than they expect, and the bottom line will fall into place.

The daily headlines are heartbreaking and cynicism-inducing.

Bernie Madoff. Enron. Yahoo’s COO getting a gazillion dollar severance package after 18 failed months on the job.

I made a promise to myself early on that if I can’t look my children in the eyes every night and tell them what I did at work that day, it was time to call it quits.

I volunteer on boards of nonprofits, teach classes to entrepreneurs and guest lecture at Lehigh University. We bring on interns. We take calls with startups and do business plan reviews.

This takes up a lot of time, but I’m a big believer in doing well by others so they, in turn, can pay it forward.

Altitude had early champions – Laura Eppler from Ben Franklin Technology Partners is tops on my list – without whom I can’t imagine where we’d be. It’s really a simple concept that is often lost on too many business leaders.

Today, we support BFTP any way we can.

I’m blessed to have two families. My Altitude family and my home family.

The best part of my work month is personally handing everyone their paycheck, looking them in the eye and saying “Thank you.”

I know I wouldn’t be handing myself a paycheck without them. And I know why I’m doing it.

I’ve left more than enough money on the table by not knocking myself out working 18-hour days and being constantly on the road. Could I have a few more dollars in my retirement account by now?

Absolutely. But at what cost?

There’s way more to life than cash. Like coaching my son’s baseball team. Taking my daughter to gymnastics. Doing the food shopping.

Work-life balance is an essential value of Altitude – and one that team members really appreciate.

Call it gut. Call it intuition. I call it “Spidey sense.”

Everyone has it – but not everyone can hear it and act on it. I’ve learned the hard way – when bad lessons repeated themselves – to trust it.

Learn to snuff it out early and understand that short-term gain will not outweigh the long-term pain if you sense something isn’t going to work out well in the long run.

Often I think about the great bosses and mentors I’ve had in my career.

I thank Susan Ebert for taking a chance on me as a 24-year-old know-it-all and knocking me down a peg. And Barbara Newton for showing me how being transparent with the financials in an organization gives everyone the sense that they are in this together.

And Nancy Small for showing me that it’s not only OK to be compassionate as a leader, but it moves people to want to work their butts off for you. And Scott Overholt, who to this day is my first call when something goes wrong.

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