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Friday, October 14, 2011

Everyone loves to leave a legacy

from Dave Berkus





Be honest now. Have you ever thought of what legacy you'll leave behind? If you are an entrepreneur or CEO, surely you've thought of how you'll be remembered by your associates and stakeholders after you move on.

We've all heard the stories of tough SOB bosses that took advantage of employees, vendors, even stock holders. And such stories do get around. How many people who know those stories are willing to trust their next chapter to that person's next act? In my past, I made it a practice to hold exit interviews personally with nearly all separating employees, gaining insights from them they would not be willing to share while still employed with the company.

And invariably, I'd end each with a handshake and the admonition: “I want us to part as friends. We never know how we're going to meet again, perhaps with the shoe on the other foot.” I did not know for many years, until a most successful reunion planned by my former executives bringing back over a hundred past employees, how much that and other signs of respect and dignity for the employee-associate made our workplace rare and desirable.

I used to receive a list of birthdays for the next month from my assistant, culling the information from the corporate books spanning offices in many countries. Once a month, I would maintain the ritual of going to the local gift shop and buying enough birthday cards to fit each employee or associate. And once a month, while watching TV, I spend part of an evening writing personal messages to each birthday employee, recalling an event or complimenting a behavior or success. Such amazing accidental returns for such a small gesture. Even today, years later, I am met at industry events by former employees with a common refrain, “Our company was the best employer I have ever had, before or since.”

That is a legacy you cannot buy, at a cost of acknowledging individuals with respect and personal recognition. And what do I remember about that ten-plus year experience, among the thrills of rapid growth, great workplace, and great lucrative exit? Most of all, it is those personal moments of contact with former employees, each recalling with appreciation their time at this one company.

Dave Berkus is a noted speaker, author and early stage private equity investor. He is acknowledged as one of the most active angel investors in the country, having made and actively participated in over 70 technology investments during the past decade. He currently manages two angel VC funds (Berkus Technology Ventures, LLC and Kodiak Ventures, L.P.), is a partner in Trenchant Ventures, LLC. Dave is past Chairman of the Tech Coast Angels, one of the largest angel networks in the United States. You can read more of his blog posts at Berkonomics.com.


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