I was reading an article in the New Yorker the other day about the Google lawsuit against Uber, and it got me thinking about the start of my journey 25 years ago when I departed Robert Half to launch Advantage Professionals. As I was reading the article, I was reminiscing about my ignorance and hubris at that point in my life. I was a young professional with a beautiful wife and two remarkable little kids. And although I had a good job, I always wanted to do something on my own.
The two biggest assets I had at the time were the client relationships I was building and what I had already learned about the staffing business [which, in retrospect, was not as much as I thought at the time]. One of the impediments to leaving and starting out my own, however, was the one-year non-compete I had signed in good faith. I solicited opinions from three different lawyers [two telling me it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and the other one telling me if he worked for the plaintiff, he’d have me sitting on the beach for a year].
In parallel at the time, my prospective business partner [who became my best friend while building a variety of businesses together for the past 25 years], told me “Sit it out, it’s the right thing to do. We can do other things for a year and then we’ll launch your new staffing business without any issue.” My new lawyer at the time, Frank Gaglione, told me “He’s right. Don’t take anything when you leave, not even a paper clip.” I quit, we honored my non-compete, unearthed 66 other opportunities, and followed the Root Philosophy. So much has come from that year. While others would see it as business purgatory, I saw it as a unique opportunity – and I enjoyed a year of exploring other things and strategizing about my future.
For a couple of years before I finally departed, my pocket book was telling me to ignore my non-compete contract and just get after it. Fortunately, I listened to Tony, Frank, and my mom – and here I sit, 25 years later – comfortable and proud with how we have built our businesses. As I approach 60, I know I’m rolling along on the back nine, but I’ve always loved the back nine because that’s where everything happens.
But, back to that article. Google versus Uber
What I didn’t know back then was that non-compete contracts were more enforceable on the east coast than they were on the west coast. That traces back to 1957, when Silicon Valley was created by a young group of engineers – and they were instrumental in creating a more fluid and less-restrictive environment. The difference between William Shockley’s employees in 1957 and me in 1993 was that I lived by the decision making based on standards and ethics. To this day, we use that as our foundation as we continue to grow our businesses.
Sometimes the standards impact the ethics, and, for my sake, while paying heed to the standards, I leaned on the ethical side of the equation. So, next time you ponder a decision, give proper weight to the standards but make your decision based on your ethics. I know doing that makes my mom proud.