In the mid-90s I made the decision to leave my managing director position at Salomon Brothers and move to Allen & Co, a smaller firm offering me the ability to work intimately with many entrepreneurs and companies, not only in an advisory role, but in some cases as an investor.
Many people questioned my move, telling me I was crazy to leave such a lucrative situation. However, while I knew it was a risk, I could not face another day dreading the office. I decided – crazy or not – to take the leap.
From the very beginning, I was much happier at Allen & Co than I could have ever imagined.
The mid-90s brought unique opportunities in the development of online e-commerce. My first investment was in a group that owned travel agencies which were expected to be transformed by their new online offering. Having researched the industry, I became convinced that this was a good idea and decided to make a million-dollar investment in the company. Yet, soon thereafter, it became apparent that the CEO had questionable ethics. Since I had implicitly endorsed him by way of our capital, I found myself believing that my entire career was ruined through the association.
I went to the owner of our firm, Herbert Allen, and shared everything I knew about the situation. He paused, looked at me, and said: “Leave it. You’ve learned a lesson. Just walk away.” So, I did.
Straight out of the gate, I had messed up. In the aftermath, I went through a major identity crisis. Although I had made a bad “people” decision, my instincts about the online travel industry were, in fact, spot on.
Shortly thereafter, I was an initial investor in another online travel business, Priceline, and we all know how well that turned out.
I truly believe that in order to succeed, you need to learn from your mistakes, pick yourself up, lean in and keep going. With a little humor and hard work, careers are made.