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Four Things I Learned Watching the Mountain Man Memorial March

“I’m gonna run a marathon thru the Smoky Mountains wearing combat boots.”

“Say what?” I said, “that’s impossible.”

“And oh,” my son continued, I’ll be carrying a backpack with 35 pounds of sand in it.”

Of course, my next question was, “why?” to which he replied, “Dad, the whole idea is to honor through action. ROTC teams throughout the country come together to raise money for scholarship grants to Gold Star families. It’s our way to honor the sacrifices of American service members and their families.”

That was my introduction to the Mountain Man Memorial March held each April in Gatlinburg TN. After watching my son participate in this extraordinary event, I couldn’t help but wonder where he got his drive and intensity. Though both his grandfathers were proud WWII vets, he had not grown up in a military culture. But his mother and I were proud beyond words to see him cross the finish line with enough energy to run another 10 miles.

Instead of trying to figure out how my son might have learned this from me, I realized I need to learn from his example of focus, endurance and training. As I reflect on this inspiring day a few months ago, I see four life principles at work.

1. You are stronger as a team.   Each ROTC team ran as a team, meaning each team was only as strong as its weakest member. This made the team stronger, because the team stayed together which ensured that every team member crossed the finish line. Success in business requires the same kind of team mentality. When I am brokering a business transaction, I embrace the client’s legal and accounting teams (many brokers are intimidated by lawyers and accountants). You are always stronger as a team.

2. Preparation is everything.   My son and his ROTC buddies at University of Tennessee had been in training for months for the Mountain Man March. Three or four days each week they’d wake at 4:00AM for a 13-mile jog before classes, and once a week they’d strap on combat boots and 35-pound backpacks and run a longer distance. All this time my son was taking a full load of classes, and working part-time to make money buy his girlfriend (now wife) an engagement ring. Now, he didn’t have to go through all this preparation or training to participate, anybody could show up and run the race, but it’s not likely anyone could just show up and expect to finish, much less be successful. In the state of Tennessee, anybody can call themselves a business broker. There are no state laws or regulations regarding the conduct or training to be a business broker. So, it’s the training and preparation you don’t see that’s most important. When business owners see that I’m a lawyer and Harvard MBA, they know I have been properly trained for the engagement.

3. You have to be flexible.   There are many ways to describe Gatlinburg TN, and one word you frequently hear is “crowded.” So how do you run on a beautiful spring weekend day through the busy streets and trails of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains? You have to be flexible. The last mile of the race was an uphill stretch on the sidewalks of busy Gatlinburg. It was a crazy sight to see these men and women in boots and heavy backpacks dodging and weaving around shoppers carrying bags of trinkets and candy. Business has distractions too, through which you just have to be flexible. I have never negotiated or participated in a business transaction that didn’t have some kind of crazy, unexpected distraction. Unless you maintain a good attitude and be prepared to jump around “moving cars,” you are likely to get hurt. Stay flexible, prepare for anything.

4. Every uphill eventually has a downhill, and often it is the downhill that is hardest to handle.   Before the race I heard a guy say he was dreading a 1.5 mile stretch up a 14-degree incline. As my son was cooling off after the race, I listened to his description of the course. I asked him if that 1.5 mile uphill stretch was the toughest part, and he surprised me by saying it wasn’t, that in fact the toughest parts of the course were the downhill stretches. He went on to describe how the impact of the weight he was carrying hurt worst on the feet going downhill, and he also pointed out that it’s hard to maintain balance while going downhill. Life can be that way too. We dread the hard times we think might be coming, but in fact, but often it’s when things are going well we make our biggest mistakes. When a business owner thinks he/she has it all figured out, it’s likely there’s a mistake coming. Be careful on the downhill slides.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing your son participate in such a tough, yet noble event. But beyond just basking in my parental pride, I am grateful to use the opportunity to reflect on what I learned that day from my son.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim is an attorney (non-resident status with the Missouri Bar) and though he no longer practices law, he has read and negotiated enough legal documents to fill a cargo tanker. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and knows how Wall Street and private equity operates. Jim is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed general civil mediator with tons of experience helping business owners (large and small) work through sensitive problems to achieve winning results. He is the author of "Home Run, A Pro's Guide to Selling Your Business, Seven Principles to Make Your Company Irresistible."

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