I have shut out the details of how Nancy and I worked it out. I know she had to turn down a dream job in Africa. I know too that she found a way to forgive me. She went along with my starting the business, with a condition. “Only for the next five years,” she said. “I swear if you don’t come with me on my next overseas assignment, I’ll divorce you.” I promised her I would. I told her I had also let my new partners know the plan.
Dave and Amy both wanted their names associated with the firm. I knew that banks took working for a company with your name on it as a marker for being self-employed. And that was the last thing I wanted any mortgage lender to think. We ended up calling ourselves MNG for the Marasco Newton Group. Dave joked that the ‘G’ in MNG was a placeholder for when I had a change of heart. Though we all had equal Board votes, we made Amy the President. Dave was Senior Vice President. Jim, Tom and I were Vice Presidents.
We ran into trouble from the very beginning. We leased office space and computer equipment sufficient for twenty-five or thirty people. We only had a third that many, tops. One evening the security company called me to let me know that the afterhours alarm was going off. They told me I needed to get back into town to shut it off. When I arrived after midnight, I found the office door was jimmied. Thieves had stolen all our newly-leased computers. When the police arrived, they said there was very little chance that we’d ever get them back. That was when it dawned on us that we’d overlooked getting any type of insurance to cover the firm. We now owed forty-thousand dollars to the leasing agency for the stolen computers. And, after only two months of operation, it looked like bankruptcy might be our only out.
The police dropped by the following day to let us know that we were living under a lucky star. “Some good Samaritan in DC saw a couple of guys hawking personal computers off a little trolley in the street. He called them out and they fled the scene. Lucky for you, they left the computers.” We ended up getting all but three of the computers back and we didn’t have to close the company down.
Six months into operation, June, 1990, the first MNG baby was born. My amazing daughter Kate. We had about thirty employees by then. Many of our old customers had followed us to the new company and work was flowing in. By outward signs, we were already a success. But my partners and I were at each other’s throats. And we didn’t seem to have the skills needed to resolve the differences that constantly arose.
Some of the issues were trivial, like whether Amy should get her own secretary while the rest of us shared one. Some were difficult, like how many shares of stock each of us was entitled to. No matter the importance of the issue, the discussions led to squabbling. And the squabbling led to each of us trying to tear the others down.
In fairness, both Dave and Amy remained above the fray. They were also growing weary of being the only adults in the room. What was clear was that there was some sort of functional imbalance in our group. Well, ‘dysfunctional’ is probably the better word. We agreed that something had to change, but we couldn’t identify exactly what.
The problems grew worse and worse over a period of about two years. Then, at some point Amy came into my office and asked if we could have a chat. She said that she had been thinking about our difficulties and it had become clear to her that I was at their root. She fingered my behavior during our weekly board meetings. She said I was unprofessional because as she put it, “You argue until you wear everyone down. You force your point and you won’t let up until you’ve worn us out.”
Now recall that Amy brought her favorite – Jim – from her old shop, just as Dave had brought his top producer, Tom, from his. As far as I was concerned, both were bigger problems than I was. And they were building their businesses – testing, training and the like – on top of my systems work. Assuming this was only Amy’s position, I suggested that we discuss this as a group. That’s when she told me that wouldn’t be necessary. She said they had all already discussed it and, “They asked me to have this talk.” It struck me that Dave and Amy had made a deal to each protect their own. I was the odd man out.
I was floored – and I was scared. Two years in it looked like I was about to be forced out. I admit, I was well aware of the behavior she was talking about. I just didn’t think it was all that big a deal. But apparently it was because it sure felt like I was about to get the boot. I decided to own up to it and let the chips fall where they may. I scheduled time with each of them and promised that I would do my best to change my behavior. Then I sat back and waited for my pink slip. But my dismissal notice never came. Instead, the ‘problem’ spot light shifted to Tom and within a couple of months we’d forced him out.