Looking Back Over The Years

March 6, 2019

Looking Back

The 30+ years at SEP flew by. You hear older people say things like that often, and it does feel like life accelerates. There were some very tough times and a lot of great times. For me, I always felt like just another employee with the responsibility to look out after all of us as an organization.

The other founders of SEP don’t get a lot of mention, but they are an important part of the story. Michael Fouch and I were the initial two partners. Mike had the business experience and his father Nathan mentored me in those early years. Anthony Montgomery and Tim Shoemaker rounded out our founding team soon after. Tony brought the focus on culture and instilled that into our DNA.

Tim passed away April 2009 after fighting a fast-moving illness. His passing was a shocking loss for SEP and me personally. Tim liked to say that I was Captain Pickard to his Riker. In the early years, Tim was the heart of SEP. As for me, I was the courage and the glue in those early years.

It thrills me to see that most of the early ideas we had live to this day, perhaps expressed differently and refined. Our focus was always on building a great workplace for our employees and honing our craft. You see this in the name of the company. We still fly this banner high. As I like to say now, “We want to be the place where everyone wants to work, and the development partner everyone wants to hire.”

My wife tells me that I was blessed to have a job I loved so much. I fully agree! These last several years of transition have been tough, but rewarding as I’ve stepped back to allow others to carry on SEP’s vision on a day-to-day level.

My decision to make the transition back in 2010 came down to two big ideas:  Time to Move On and SEP is Moving out of my Basement.

Time to Move On

Many of you may not know this, but my faith drives most of what I do in some way. It has felt like God was telling me to “clear the deck.” This started around 2010. My heart has always been with orphans. The verse in James about True Religion is ingrained in my brain. We’ve expressed this drive by adopting, four times now, supporting orphan-support charities and serving. My plans include doing more in this area including continuing to work with at-risk youth in Ethiopia in the summers with Hands of Hope (Noblesville) and Berhan Yehun (Addis Ababa Ethiopia).

This was clearer for me after 2010 but there was this nagging itch to do something else. You might call it “the Founder’s Trap” that is mentioned in the book Corporate Lifecycles by Ichak Adizes. As I worked to set up leadership teams, bring in new people to staff areas of need, and develop business analytics to run the business, I wanted to get out of the way and let our upcoming leaders move the company forward. I am an entrepreneur and a risk taker. I had watched SEP grow and I knew it was time to move on and build something new.

SEP is Moving out of my Basement

My heart’s desire is to see this company outlive me. This thing we call SEP is like a child to me. With the ESOP and now the transition, it is like the child grew up and moved out of the house. I say, “go out and make me proud.”

What’s Next?

Friends and family have been asking me this question for a while now. Since my departure from SEP has been in the works for years, my answer is the same… I really don’t know for sure.

Those that know me well should be surprised. I am a high-level planner. There is a lot of pragmatism to my personality too and personal freedom is very important too. So, yeah, much planning along with flexibility and experimentation.

During the planning, I have sought out people who retired recently and those considering it. Three big ideas came across.

  1. You have to stay busy, especially mentally.
  2. I have no time to be bored. Busier now than before I retired.
  3. Look for ways to use your giftedness.

Recently, I added to my fishing and hunting collection, including acquiring some fly-fishing equipment (a skill I’ve long been meaning to learn). We added an Irish Terrier puppy (“Buddy”) to the family and bought a property in the country with a small lake.

The ultimate plan is to downsize and split time between the lake property and a small house near downtown Carmel. With four daughters (two still in high-school) we still have a lot of family adventures left to have.

We are also working with an at-risk youth program called Berhan Yehun, in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. My wife, Deanna and I have been going over in the summers to work with these kids now for four years. We love it.

Little did I know in 1988 that SEP would be where it is today. It’s rewarding to see so many people employed, working at a company where they love to work and excel in their craft. It’s even more rewarding to know that I’m leaving SEP in the excellent hands of their 135+ employee-owners.