How Starting My Own Company Made Me Better At My Job

By: Tim Gordon, Founder & Managing Partner

It blows my mind that we’re going to be five. Five! I’ve now officially been running Aequitas Partners longer than anything else I’ve done in my professional career. Five has me a bit nostalgic. Reflective. Grateful. I’ve tried to be mindful and celebratory of milestones that we’ve reached over the years as the business has grown, but I’ll be honest – I’m bad at it. In quiet moments I celebrate these things, but it’s usually fleeting and then it’s back to work. It’s something I’m working on. As we close in on our fifth anniversary as a firm, I thought it fitting to revisit the first thing I wrote when I was “giving content a try.” As I read through what I wrote, it felt more relevant than ever, and reminded me of how incredibly uncomfortable I was writing it the first time around. Now felt like a great time to dust it off, polish it up, and drag it into 2019.

Part of why I wanted to revisit this topic is because my belief in its impact hasn’t changed, and if anything has only gotten stronger. Empathy may be the most important, accidental thing I’ve gained from starting my own company. Friends and family would tell you that I’ve always been empathetic; tough but fair. I’m the guy that people usually came to with their problems when they needed someone to listen and maybe give advice. I’m a good listener, and was always good at relating to people. I’m talking about empathy in a different way here. It’s been nearly 5 years since I took the leap and founded Aequitas Partners. It’s been a wild ride that’s gotten more exciting each month, and I’m not kidding when I say it feels like a blink. Days, weeks and months disappear, and I regularly lament to anyone that will listen that if I had a super power it would be the ability to slow time down and live in moments longer. I’ve made what I view as an offensive number of mistakes (no one beats me up quite like me). These mistakes are different though; these challenges, stresses, missteps, screw-ups, missed opportunities – have actually taught me things. I’ve learned to separate that from the trivial. Interestingly enough, the one thing that quite possibly has had the most profound and unexpected impact on me is a simple byproduct of starting the company in the first place – building my own team. It was true when I wrote this the first time, and it’s true now.

The irony of this is not lost on me. I’m in the business of hiring, so shouldn’t this be easy? As an executive recruiter, I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible entrepreneurs and CEOs across Healthcare in recent years, helping them identify C-level and leadership team members across every functional role. What I had yet to do when I wrote this the first time, was find team members for myself. It’s now a little over two years since we hired our first person – Steven Berman – and the subsequent growth of our team has given me a small glimpse into what each of my clients must be experiencing when they ask us for help. Something that seems low risk, such as hiring a summer intern, at the time felt like it came with the weight of the world. There were nights tossing and turning as I did the math on whether I could afford to hire that person that could be an absolute game changer, and when the right time to pull the trigger was. There’s that gut feeling that someone just isn’t the right choice, even though they look great on paper. There’s the realization that with a team comes a tremendous amount of personal responsibility – they need engaging work to do, a steady paycheck, health benefits, professional development, training, career growth, and general investment from me in them. And they deserve it. Conversely, I need them to be ambassadors for the brand; every person they interact with needs to walk away impressed and intrigued by our story. It’s scary as hell.

But it has also made me better at my job. I now have a level of empathy that’s difficult to recreate, having not walked a mile in a client’s shoes. I’ve never been a hard-sell search guy – not with candidates and not with clients. I try my best to shepherd both parties through the process, adding insight when I can, and pushing back when it’s required. I try to do all of this while not losing sight of the significance of the decisions that both parties are making. Our clients are investing a significant amount of money in this process, both in us, and the executives they hire. Mistakes are costly, potentially meaning lost clients, lost revenue, and unhappy investors. Add to that, that this is just one of their priorities on a list that never ends, and you gain some perspective. Similarly, the executives we recruit are making what most would consider life-altering decisions. Leave a good job for what might be a better one? Relocate their whole family for what might be a career-defining opportunity? Take a cut in their cash compensation in favor of a bigger equity stake in something that could create generational wealth? Living here in the middle, it’s easy to lose sight of the gravity of these decisions.

Hiring our first few folks was a crash course in how much time and energy needs to go into making someone successful at what we do. My perspective shifted dramatically from being a one-man shop and worried about providing for myself (and subsequently my wife), to include these other incredible humans who were willing to get in the boat with me. The loyalty I feel to them for taking that leap, and the tremendous effort they’ve put in to building this company with me is something I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to articulate. It also raises the stakes. Payroll gets bigger, offices get bigger, infrastructure costs grow, and the investment of time back into our team grows. To say it never keeps me up at night would be a lie. The gift it gives me though, is the good fortune to currently be working with the best people I ever have. The pressure to deliver for them, in that light, feels appropriate.

Spending time thinking about building my team has given me an immense respect for my clients that do it every day, and arguably with more at stake. It’s helped me be more patient as clients reach their own conclusions. It’s made me acutely aware of all the things that are probably going through their minds, even though they might not say them out loud. It’s made it more personal. I now know where they’re coming from, not just in theory, but in practice. In a business that is so intensely driven by relationships, I’ve come to appreciate that my internal challenges have given me a window into the minds of those who we aim to help. As I reflect on the last 5 years, this perspective and empathy has to be one of the most important things I’ve gained, and has unquestionably made me better at what I do.