I’ve recently written about how important culture is but what many people probably don’t realize is the role culture played in actually starting GCS. In fact, looking back I now realize that the culture that GCS has today was how the company got started in the first place. 

Through this journey, I learned a simple business (and life) lesson which I will share at the end.

My story…

My current career is in large part to a 10-year period I spent at a mid-size company. Originally hired to build all their software from the ground up, I was fortunate to have a front-row seat to helping a company grow from $80M to nearly a $1B service based company in about 5–6 years. This was real-world, rapid growth in living color. This was a time where results were measured in hours and days and where plans were about as reliable as the weather in Houston.

It was hard at times, but also incredibly rewarding for me personally. Those tough times created war stories, bonding certain groups of people together for life. It was the culture I needed at that time and I bought in with everything I had.

At some point, the company had to sell (private equity) and the company that bought them was a bit more mature (80 years old!), which meant their appetite for disruption was a bit different than ours. What used to take days and phone calls to get done, became a decision by committee environment. Things came to a halt. 

Don’t get me a wrong, this new company was (and still is) a great place to work. They treat their employees fantastically, are well respected in their industry, and have a proven track record of success that is hard to beat. There was nothing wrong with their culture, it just wasn’t a fit for me, or for us, at that time in our life.

This was 12 months before Gulf Coast Solutions was even an idea, but it was the beginning.

Soon after, I agreed to do a favor for a colleague to help one of the companies in his portfolio by reviewing a standard contract for IT services. It was simply a review to make sure the contract, which would have been a big commitment for this company at the time, did not have any hidden terms that are so often present in these long-term service contracts. When the CFO and the controller walked into my office, I’m sure they expected it to be a 10-minute conversation with the boilerplate type of advice. They did not know me apparently.

Rather than spend time discussing network diagram and SLA’s, I began to paint a picture of what technology could be. I always viewed technology as a leader of the business, not simply a support organization and about 90 minutes after he walked in, the CFO said a sentence that I will remember until I did.

“Before I came into this meeting, I saw IT in black-n-white. After talking with you, I now see it in technicolor.” — D.M.

Upon that revelation, we realized it was time to find a client.

In the early parts of a business, you often have to make sales on things you don’t quite have yet. it’s sort of a chicken and an egg thing really.

As detailed in this article, my first client proposal did not go quite as planned but in the end, it all worked out and we did get the client. Before we quit our day job however, we made one trip to the corporate office to meet with the team in person for an upcoming project.

When we visited this new client, something strange happened. We witnessed first hand what a world-class culture was like. We walked into a company that was oozing friendliness, warmth, and general caring for each other. They LOVED the company and were genuinely happy to be at work. This wasn’t the pretend to drink the kool-aid kind of love that I had seen in the past, this was 100% authentic, down-south, invite-you-in-for-a-cup-of-tea southern hospitality. These were people who were ready to go to bat for each other and in front of it all, was this leader who was full of energy, ready to disrupt, and most importantly, really cared for his employees.

I walked into that office that day certain I had something that people would pay for and absolutely looking for a career change. I knew the what and the how, both critical pieces to my journey.

But I had yet to learn the why and when I walked out of that office on a warm Louisiana day, I had finally understood what started me on this journey, to begin with. In reflection, it has been what has guided me the whole time, down to the reason I am typing out this article. I wanted to create value, not only in what I did but also to every relationship I was part of. I wanted to be part of a group of people who shared my energy, my empathy, and my drive. 

For the first time in my life, I realized I had the power to create and shape this myself and that although my business is less than 10 years old, it’s been decades in the making. 

I promised you would learn something at the beginning of this story.

The lesson…Life is always giving you clues on where you should take your journey. It could be from a random conversation, and inspirational chapter in a book, or the sound a mountain makes when no one is around. If you listen carefully and keep an open mind, these clues may just lead you to a life you never thought you wanted.