Some of my favorite things to do when visiting clients is to hear their history, talk with long-time employees and take a tour. Generational businesses completely amaze me in learning of their incredible legacies that started with a dream, the entrepreneurial spirit and perseverance. Each has its milestone events including key customers, the addition of key leaders and external events that helped shape what they have now become, the growth within their employees and the customers they serve. There are hundreds of organizations that we have been blessed to serve; each with its own impressive story and I marvel at the incredible things they do and feel truly honored to play a role in the way they care for their people.
On October 1, 2018, Bravo will celebrate our 10-year anniversary! While we may not be the size of some of our customers, this is a terrific occasion to celebrate and reflect on our journey so far. In 2008, my wife Natalie and I took a risk starting Bravo during the worst economy our nation has experienced since the great depression. Before I say anything else, I must first thank her. A stay-at-home mom willing to press pause on a lot of comforts, go to work and bring enthusiasm and encouragement when I faced doubts and questioned my decision to leave a secure job. I’m truly thankful. We prayed like it depended on God and worked like it depended on us. What a ride!
Once we took the leap, the future began to take shape before our eyes. On paper, everything happens in a neat and orderly fashion. In real life, it’s an adventure full of twists and turns we had to learn to embrace. The first battle is in one’s mind. Thankfully, all those posters, magnets and bookmarks I accumulated from Norman Vincent Peale, John Maxwell, Successories and others over the years became anchors in our thinking.
- “Success occurs when preparedness and opportunity meet.”
- “You cannot control what happens to you, but you can always control how you respond to it.”
- “Opportunity often comes disguised as a huge problem to solve.”
- “If you’re going through hell – Don’t Stop!”
These and many others morphed from cute motivational sayings on my wall, into daily nuggets of wisdom and encouragement to tackle whatever came next – knowing that “failure is an event, not a person” and “Any set-back was just a set-up for a comeback!” For me, I honestly can’t fathom stomaching the uncertainty of a new business without deeply held beliefs and focus.
In the beginning, my wife, my father, my pastor and a close circle of friends kept me grounded and helped bring focus every day. As clients began to come and we became trusted partners and friends, often navigating the uncertainty of new regulations and the preconceived notions of those who had tried similar feats with little success, Bravo took on its own identity, producing results that routinely exceed client -and even my own- expectations. The company quickly became about things much bigger than Natalie and my financial future, we realized that we had been entrusted with an opportunity that could help millions of people live healthier lives, while at the same time, creating much needed job opportunities for people in our community. Incredible employees joined the team and became family. They truly loved our clients and the mission we served. We muscled through 300% growth year after year and fed off each other’s energy.
We quickly grew from a start-up in 2008, to one of Inc. Magazine’s 5000 fastest growing companies in America, remaining debt free, privately held and profitable the entire time. In 2011, Ernst and Young selected me as the Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur of the Year® and sent Natalie and I to Palm Springs to represent our region in the national competition. It was truly a pinch myself experience in joining business legends like Steve Case and Michael Dell on stage while being celebrated by founders of incredible companies I admire.
As exciting as that season and all the accolades were, I can honestly say that I’m even more proud of what we have achieved since that time. Lots of great ideas fail because leaders think that what got them through the first mile will get them through the entire marathon. 2014 through 2017 brought numerous new government regulations, many very well-funded competitors and a change in customer priorities from saving money in order to survive to attracting and retaining talent as businesses rebounded and found themselves in a war for talent. Bravo had to change as well.
Recognizing my personal limitations in the education and experience needed to scale a company, we formed a rock star Executive Leadership Team (ELT) led by Chris Yessayan, our President. Our long-term employees were joined by seasoned veterans, giving us a beautiful culture and solid foundation to build upon. I could never pay enough or be a good enough boss to deserve the type of loyalty, commitment, creativity and intelligence that our Bravo team brings to work every day. It’s unreal.
The Bravo team cares so deeply for our clients, and for one another, that I know there are no mountains we can’t climb and no challenge we can’t solve together. And while I’ve had to learn that some are only supposed to be part of our story for a season, and their time at Bravo may just be part of preparing them for what’s next, everyone makes deposits that make us better and withdraws that make them stronger and better equipped to pursue their dreams. I’ve learned that this is part of the purpose Bravo serves.
Sometimes I wish I could eliminate the struggles. Trust me, it hasn’t all been smooth, and it’s never been easy. Yet I know that every struggle makes us better. At our roots, Bravo is about solving problems and helping individuals achieve their personal best. My personal best is not the same as yours – and that’s ok. When we help our employees, our customers and their employees become thinkers, achievers, overcomers and encouragers, we are building people up who in turn build up their companies and ultimately society. Doing good by doing good makes it easy to wake up energized every day.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to lead this great company with such a powerful mission. We now serve hundreds of employers and over ONE MILLION of their employees. We have over 170 employees of our own, a great board, a clear mission and exciting products and services. I don’t know exactly what the next 10 years will hold but know that we will take the good and the bad and use it to strengthen people anyway we can.
To our customers, clients, partners, employees and friends I say “Bravo!” Thank you for being part of our journey thus far and for helping us achieve all that we were meant to accomplish. Happy Anniversary.