On several occasions I have been asked how I ended up becoming the CEO of Bit-Wizards and an Entrepreneur. Even though 50 is the new 30, and in your 40’s you start to reflect on life only to realize that while you are presently at the mid-point in your life, there are potentially more days behind you than there are ahead of you. As a result, you start to become more introspective about who you are, and how you got there.
Nevertheless, I have pondered many times how I got where I am today. I have always been an achievement oriented-person and certainly a number of factors influenced me:
- Scouting and earning the rank of Eagle Scout
- Being a Colonel in AF Junior ROTC
- Earning the Civil Air Patrol’s highest Award: Carl A. Spaatz Award
- Serving in the US Army and US Air Force
- Being a pilot and the discipline and skill required to fly an airplane
- My parents
- Being raised a Catholic
All of these had a profound impact on who I have become. Looking back on my life so far, I reflect on the people that have mentored and shaped my life and my values. Some are fictional and some are real people. It is, however, the people in my life who have had the biggest impact on who I have become. I realize that while achievement has always been a driver in my life, it was my heroes and mentors who most shaped me. For me, my mentors and my heroes are one in the same. I come from a military family and grew up as a military brat. This lifestyle exposed me to a whole world that is very different from those who are born and raised in one single location. If you look at my list of heroes and mentors you will notice that many of them are or were in the military.
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
But on further evaluation, I realize that, my heroes have always been "cowboys". Or at least they embodied many of the attributes we tie to cowboys. Why cowboys you might ask? What is it that people value about cowboys? From my perspective, I value their self-sufficiency, their adventurous, independent spirit, and their traditional ways. It is that "manly-man", rugged, independent spirit that makes you believe anything is possible with hard work. At the end of my look back, I found that I consider all my heroes to be cowboys. So, I thought I would list them and reflect on why they are my heroes and what traits I learned from and value in them.
Brigadier General Robin Olds
Robin Olds: Ace, Fighter Pilot, Maverick, and Leader. Olds is one of my greatest heroes and one of two of the people I admire the most. I love the way he thumbed his nose at bureaucracy and the stupidity of politics in favor of the greater mission. But the biggest thing I learned from Robin Olds is that people follow best when given the sense that they are part of something larger than themselves. People thrive off the pride of their team and being a part of a higher cause. If they can visualize what you are trying to accomplish together, they can move mountains. This breeds esprit de corps, and with camaraderie and esprit de corps a team or organization can accomplish anything. A leader who recognizes this and can bring people together with esprit de corps is going to be effective in any endeavor.
Captain Lance P. Sijan
Captain Sijan: Fighter Pilot, Air Force Academy Graduate, POW and Medal of Honor Awardee. Sijan is one of my greatest heroes and the second of two people I admire the most. Lance’s story is one of character, commitment, sacrifice, principles, duty, honor, and country. From Lance I learned the difference between being dedicated and committed to something larger than you. Dedicated is one thing, but when committed there will be sacrifices you must be willing to make. When committed you really have "skin in the game". Lance’s commitment to the Code of Conduct, his fellow servicemen, and his country are a demonstration of living character that I strive for in my personal and professional life. If you could live up to only a fraction of his example, the world would be a much better place. Another thing I took from Lance was that ruthless commitment and persistence, while necessary for success, does not guarantee results. In the end, Lance gave his life as a result of his heroic commitment. Everyone does not have to give their lives to be committed, but there is a difference between being committed and being dedicated.
General George S. Patton Jr.
I read my first book about George Patton when I was in the second grade. I knew after reading that book, I wanted to serve in the military and be a general one day. I was born a warrior and a leader and I am extremely driven. Being driven to excellence and dedicated to a higher cause larger than yourself is what I learned from the life of General George S. Patton. He was a man who demanded results and got them. He was a natural leader with the ability to inspire others, he was able to make his command do things that others said could not be done. He inspired esprit de corps in his men, and whether motivated by fear, hatred, or a sense of belonging they were able to be better men than they thought they were. He also taught me to "go with my gut" and that making a decision and living with the consequences, was better than making no decision at all. I have learned to detest paralysis through analysis. I think this is a slow death for any organization.
Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington
Major Pappy Boyington: WWII Ace, Fighter Pilot, and leader of the famed Black Sheep Squadron. Aside from his maverick style and ability to create espirt de corps, what I learned from Pappy was that rules were made to be broken and that risk is part of doing business. He believed that when confronted with bureaucracy and stupidity in the face of a larger purpose: Break the rules. Color outside of the lines. Of course this needs to be tempered with good decision making when deciding the right time break the rules or take a risk. You have to weigh and be willing to accept the consequences, both good and bad, in these situations. Most people are adverse to taking risks and they like to color in the lines. But without risk there are no rewards.
Colonel Christopher P. Ryan
Colonel Ryan was my Professor of Aerospace Science in College Air Force ROTC. I remember being the only person in our ROTC detachment who recognized that he had been awarded the Purple Heart. It was only though my persistent curiosity and earning his respect that I ultimately learned how he earned that Purple Heart. Colonel Ryan had been shot during the assassination of Anwar Sadat. It was through his story that I learned both humility and humbleness. Later, I learned that no matter how high we climb we can always fall. It was through that experience that I realized, how we deal with failure is a true measure of our character. Colonel Ryan was also a devout Catholic and from him I began to understand that having faith in God and integrating that faith as a guiding principle in your actions, is an integral part of being a leader.
Brigadier General George F. Williams
General Williams was a close mentor and friend as I was a young Cadet in Civil Air Patrol. I was always an achievement and goal-oriented kid. George taught me many things, but two stand out in my mind. One was the value of mentorship and sharing your talents and skills to help guide others. While George was a driven and achievement-oriented man, he was always willing to give of himself and share his many talents in mentoring others. The second thing I learned from George was to play life like a chess game, with the end game in mind. The details always matter, but you have to keep your eye on the big picture. In a game of chess you have to think five moves ahead. However, as your opponent makes their moves, you have to adjust your strategy five more moves ahead while keeping your opponents strategy in mind. This is important, not only in life, but it is also critical in business, especially when you have to take educated risks. Most people cannot think passed their first move. In fact, most of their moves are self-motivated based on their own personal well-being. They easily lose sight of the end game.
Vincent P. Mayfield (My Father)
My father is achievement-oriented, rising to the highest rank of Chief Master Sergeant while serving in the United States Air Force. My father taught me to be a man. He taught me the meaning of responsibility. He taught me what it means to be a father. But the biggest lesson that I learned from my father is what love is. We often think of love as what we see on TV with cupids and happy endings. But I learned from my father first hand, when someone you love is sick with cancer, their hair has fallen out, they have puked and defecated on themselves, and your mind is screaming that you would rather be anywhere else in the world than be there at that moment -- despite that you lovingly stay by their side, you hold them, you clean them, and you take care of them. The painful thought of them laying there and suffering in their own filth is greater than your need to run away. You put them before yourself. That is love.
Carroll “Wes” Mayfield (My Grandfather)
My grandfather, a man who grew up in the Great Depression, was a generous man. He was also a man with a great sense of humor. My Grandfather lived in Illinois and owned grocery store. Many of the people who patronized his store were poor and many were farmers. My grandfather never turned anyone away, even to his own detriment. He kept a ledger and let people pay on credit when they needed. As a struggling business owner with six children of his own, he accepted people at face value and extended them credit when others would not. Tragically, due to faulty electrical wiring his store was destroyed by fire and the ledger with it. Many of those people he extended credit to, refused to pay once the ledger was gone. My grandfather did not become bitter he continued to be a generous man till his death. The two thingsabout my grandfather that everyone I spoke with at his funeral pointed out, was his generosity and sense of humor. He passed on that generous spirit to his six children and grandchildren. He faced numerous setbacks in his life and always trudged on with a sense of humor. I learned from him that the best things in life come from generosity and love, even when they are not appreciated by the recipients. My grandfather was not a rich man in a material sense, but he was rich in the lives of the people he touched.
Mary A. Mayfield (My Mother)
From my mother I learned many things. I was blessed to have great parents. The most important thing I learned from my mother was charity; to give even when it is most painful to you personally. She taught me that people matter, even ones we don’t know. And that having a big heart was a blessing from God. She showed me courage in the face of death. She lived her faith daily. She taught me that achievement and success earned through hard work would serve me and those whose lives I touched on my journey through life.
Chief Master Sergeant Walter A. Richardson
Mr. Richardson, who I respect deeply, was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, deacon in my church, singer, family man, friend of my family, and fellow entrepreneur. Walt is a man who endured the scourge of racism and segregation yet, served his country to the fullest and lives his faith every day of his life. What I learned from Walt is that when you have content of character it does not matter what other people think of you. Living your faith and being the man you should be, will be the ultimate reward.
President Ronald Reagan
I value Ronald Reagan as a hero for many reasons. As a conservative Republican I could go easily write 30 pages dedicated to Ronald Reagan. But the most significant thing I learned from Ronald Reagan is the importance of being able to communicate with people. Even more important is the ability to communicate with people while touching them on personal level. I think that this is most effective kind of communication. Also, I think to some extent that ability comes with an understanding of people and the capability to empathize with them. Working with people will be the most difficult thing you do as a leader, but with taking time to understand, empathize, and communicate with them this task will be a little easier.
Captain James T. Kirk
Captain Kirk and ultimately the life lessons I learned from Star Trek became a core part of my value system. My love of Star Trek began at an early age on a black & white TV. The main thing I learned from Star Trek was that in life: “There are always possibilities.” When weighing options, and even when backed into a corner, I consider that there are always other possibilities. However, the main thing I learned from Captain Kirk was all about his dedication to his mission, his ship, and his men. I equate this to my intense sense of responsibility to Bit-Wizards, the Bit-Wizards team, their families, our customers, our vendors, our partners and our core set of values. In this, I have learned to embrace responsibility to others above myself.
The Duke was my childhood hero and even today I cannot browse by a channel on T.V. with a John Wayne movie on it and not stop to watch. John Wayne epitomizes the Cowboy Spirit. When I think of a cowboy, I think of John Wayne and his younger cousin Clint Eastwood. In the roles John Wayne played, he always played a man of values, values that sometimes were so rigid they were difficult to live by. As a leader, you have to have a moral compass and a set of principles that guide you. You won’t always be perfect, but if you have your core values, and refer to your moral compass when you are lost, you will walk a much straighter path in life.
I have never met Bill Gates the founder of Microsoft, but he has been a hero of mine since I first started working with computers in the late 80’s. There are several traits of Bill Gates and the way he built and ran his company that I have admired and incorporated in my life. The first is his entrepreneurship and total dedication to his vision and his company. But the main quality about Bill Gates that I admire is how he built and ran his company like a field marshall, always paying attention to the smallest of details. Bill walked the halls of Microsoft at all hours of the day and night often stopping into offices to ask questions. He always kept his eye on the vision, but paid close attention to details. Details matter. This ultimately ties in with my experience in the military and in my flying. Lack of attention to detail can kill you. The same is true in business.
Vietnam Era POWs
As a cadet in college ROTC, one of areas of interest was the Code of Conduct and the story of the Vietnam Era POWs. I read every book I could get my hands on by the former POWs: Bud Day, Jeremiah Denton, John McCain, Robbie Riser, Ed Alverez, and James Stockdale. I even met several of them. No matter your politics or take on the Vietnam War, you have to admire their sense of duty to their fellow airmen, soldiers, marines, sailors, and country. Such dedication! Their stories mesmerized me. Stories of heroism, duty, honor, country, leadership, sacrifice, love, and esprit de corps. What stood out in my mind was their strict adherence to the Code of Conduct and their stalwart sense of duty and honor. I will probably never be put in a scenario that tests my mettle or my values the way theirs was. Even so, their stories live with me and when I have tough times in my life or face adversity, I draw strength from their stories and their sense of duty and honor. With that and God, I can get through anything.
In The End . . .
After thinking about it while, each of these people I have mentioned have specific traits that I value and hold dear, the core traits they all have in common is that they all:
- Are leaders
- Live by a set of core values
- Care about people
- Believe in something larger than themselves
- Are achievement-oriented
- Want to build and produce in life
- Become stronger through adversity
- Are self-sufficient
In retrospect, I too have these same traits and incorporated them as part of myself. It is for this reason I am a CEO and an entrepreneur.