Pivotal Moments Media CEO Robert Morgan credits his early farm industry roots for his entrepreneurial bent.
“I grew up exposed to entrepreneurship through my grandparents who owned a 330-acre dairy farm,” said Morgan.” And my dad ran a business integrating and maintaining milking systems for farmers in Pennsylvania’s south-central region, so the seeds for starting a business were planted at an early age.”
Even early in his federal government career put him in what he termed an “entrepreneurial environment,” as he was given the opportunity to grow and manage complex communication and IT systems.
So when Morgan got the opportunity to create consulting firm MorganFranklin with his sibling Ron and a co-worker, Rob Franklin, he took it. Over the next 15 years the three boot-strapped the effort into a $100 million business.
The business had a division dedicated to services and systems for national security, including the White House, and a division that provided business consulting solutions to Fortune 100, Fortune 500, midsized and high-growth businesses. They ultimately sold off the national security division with a keen sense of timing: Their growth had them competing against such giants as Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, so they decided that was the optimum time to sell. Three months later, the defense industry took a momentous downturn.
The consulting side continued to grow globally, but Morgan soon began to feel lackluster about his work as MorganFranklin’s CEO. He stepped down from that role and he and his co-founders found an experienced CEO who converted MorganFranklin into an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). The three founders stayed on as board members and executive advisors until Vaco acquired the consulting firm.
Morgan then went on to start another company, Pivotal Moments Media.
Advice for those on the entrepreneurial path
Morgan freely shares lessons he’s learned from his decades of experiences with other entrepreneurs and CEOs. Here are his top 10 lessons learned:
- Know the important traits: “The two most important traits for an entrepreneur and a CEO are self-awareness and empathy. Both will help you resolve issues and growth challenges.”
- When considering what will guide your strategy: “Ask yourself, ‘what do we want to be known for?’ not, ‘what do we do.’”
- Share strategic responsibility: “Most organizations are rife with checkers players. Find those in your organization, or hire, those who are chess players. It can be frustrating if you are solely responsible for strategy.”
- Create a circle to surround and support you: “It’s lonely at the top. Create your own personal advisory group.”
- Always be a student: “Never stop learning or educating yourself.”
- Set yourself up for change: “Promote creativity and out-of-box thinking. Disruption and organizational change do not happen without it.”
- Aim for greatness: “Do not build to sell. If you build a great company, all options for selling your business will be available.”
- Reel in the pride: “Sell when your company is in a good position and projections for growth are strong. Don’t be Icarus and let hubris keep you from making the right decision.”
- Hire a strong(er) replacement: If you step down as CEO, be very diligent to hire a new CEO who will strengthen the culture you created, but understand they will bring their own innovation and creativity.”
- Keep employee culture at the forefront: “When we sold both divisions [of MorganFranklin] we looked for buyers who shared our same cultural values and had opportunities for our employees to grow, thrive and flourish.”
Morgan then shares what may be the most important lesson of all: discovering and then living as the person who is not the CEO.
“If you’ve burned out, after you’ve re-energized, find a new mission and purpose and work to create a broader identity than being a founder and CEO,” Morgan advises. “I struggled with this mentally and became depressed, causing issues with my health and my family. Success does not make you immune from mental health issues. We all need mission, purpose and connectedness.”
Remembering that early start on the farm is part of that critical identity.