Why I Wrote Above the Line... - Steve Satterwhite

Posted by | September 04, 2013 | Above the Line | 3 Comments

(And why I’m scared $h!tless you’re actually going to read it – or worse, my kids will)

A year or so ago, I sat down to write a book about our company, Entelligence IT. About our passion for our people. About our company culture. And mostly, about our fanatical pursuit of outstanding customer service.

It was originally intended to be a marketing exercise to help our customers and our employees and applicants understand more about our business – about who we are and what we do and why we do it.

But, as fate would have it, the book I started to write didn’t quite turn out exactly as I first envisioned it. Yes, it does tell the story of how we built our private label IT services business. And what we do. And how we do it. And why we do things the way we do them.

Like our system of how we hire people to find the top 10% of the talent out in the market. Turns out the top 10% are 12 times more productive than most IT guys. And they deliver better customer service too.

We’ve got that nailed. So I wrote about it.

And how we grew our business by maniacally focusing on seriously-great customer service. Like a “10” out of 10 customer service. And not just every once in a while. It was like almost every customer and engagement we went on.  I wrote about that too because I’m obsessive about it.

Yes, we did tell these stories. And you’ll find all of this in the book and more.

But, in the beginning, as I started writing this book, something was missing for me personally. While it was easy to tell the stories about the company and how we built these systems, it was missing a heart and soul.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The writing was good. I had a great coach. And it accurately depicted our business. But, something deep down was missing for me.

Then, one night, the answer appeared.

While I was on vacation with my family in January this year, I woke up in the middle of the night. After a moment or two, a thought popped into my head about the book. And it occurred to me that I’ve been telling the story the wrong way.

I got the idea that instead of telling the company’s story in a typical business book fashion – one that has seven-magical-steps-to-the-peak-of-success that so many books follow – it dawned on me that I need to tell a more real, raw and authentic story.

I needed to tell the truth. My truth.

And that truth is that I had big ideas about building the company I always wanted to work for. A company that treated people with dignity and respect and a lot of “WOW!” service.

And that I had idealistic, almost utopian, view of the world of work. And how we should treat our employees, our applicants, our customers and our suppliers. It’s a philosophy that I call Above the Line.

So, I started writing about that too.

But, as you’ll see, I found out that it was very difficult to execute and grow a company with this philosophy. And I discovered, painfully, that I was wholly unprepared to make it happen as the company’s leader.

So, if you read the book, you’ll see that our company’s story wasn’t always sunshine and lollipops. We didn’t exactly move from one success to the next.

In fact, as you’ll see, I failed more often than I succeeded. I let a lot of people down. I got it wrong more often than I got it right.  And I’m still not sure I got it right yet.

And, you’ll also see that for the past sixteen years of building a business, I found myself constantly being chased by the demons of self-doubt, self-confidence and self-worth.

Added to this, I nearly lost the business a couple of times. I had to live through my greatest fear of failing while I was indeed in the middle of failing.

And, worst of all, I lost my best friend, business partner and confidant to an untimely and early death. An event that changed the course of my life, about who I am and about what’s really important.

All of these things, and more, became my own personal struggle to find who I am and why I’m here. Not just as an entrepreneur and CEO. But really, as a human being.

In the end, it turns out that my business was the teacher I needed all along to discover my true self and to chase off some old demons.  That intertwined in our company’s story is my own personal journey and truth. It just took me the better part of sixteen years to make this discovery.

And while I may have failed over and over again, the one thing I didn’t do is that I never quit chasing my dream of building the company I’ve always wanted to work for. In fact, now, it’s probably as close to it as it’s ever been.

So, now the book is out. And now I’m scared shitless that you’re actually going to read it.

Because when you do, you’re going to see how simultaneously determined and idealistic I was to build this business around a simple passion for putting people first. And how absolutely flawed I was at trying to execute it. And how I let a lot of people down along the way. Made a lot of mistakes. And wish I could do a lot of things over again.

Still, that’s the real story that I felt called to write about. And this is largely what the book is all about.

And then there’s this other thing that has me a bit worried.

Writing a book about personal failures and flaws may be hugely cathartic (at least it was for me). But once it gets out there, you can’t reel it back in.  It’s out there for good.

So, I’ve been worried about what my children would think if one day they would actually read my book and find out how much their dad struggled with finding his way in the world. How many mistakes I made. And how I wrestled with my own self worth.

Yes, I worried about this a lot. And, as if on perfect cue, that worry showed up front and center just last night.

You see, ever since my kids were born, the one thing I’ve tried to do every night is to read to them just before they go to bed. My kids are 12, 9 and 3. So, this has been a tradition at our house almost every night for 12 years.

Last night, when I asked my daughters what they wanted to read, my oldest daughter said, “now that you’ve finished your book, why don’t you read it to us, Daddy?”

Holy cow! I froze for minute. What?!? My book?

“Nah, you don’t want to hear about that,” I said.

But she persisted. And won.

And then I suddenly found myself reading my own book to them. Starting with the Manifesto. I read it to them just as if I had read to them every night for most of their lives.

And I was taken back a bit on how they just listened to it – just like any other night. And they just looked at me. And how I just read it like I was reading some Nancy Drew mystery or some other fairy tale that I’ve done so many times before.

I wondered what I was so worried about, because, just like most nights, they both fell asleep midway through the first chapter. I found a lot of peace about this.

Still, I thought, if we keep reading from the book, I wonder and worry what they’ll think of their dad and all his ups and downs and troubles and a few successes sprinkled in here and there.

Even though they were asleep, I just kept reading. And then, just as I ended the first chapter, my oldest daughter opened her eyes (I thought she was asleep) and smiled and looked at me and said, “wow, that was cool!”

I just smiled and kissed her goodnight.

So, there. The book is out. It’s in the world. With all my flaws. And my truth.

And thank God there’s one 12-year-old little girl who thinks it’s cool.

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