An Entrepreneur Is Born
Throughout my life I’ve always had a very keen interest in the international community and more importantly, how economic conditions and ideologies help shape the culture of nations. I decided that if I wanted to understand the complexities of the world we live in, it would probably be best if I first understood how people across the globe put food on their table every day. From that decision, I chose to study Economics so that I could truly understand how we all coexist together.
I have always had a strong interest in entrepreneurship, mainly because I’m attracted to the concept of creating something amazing from nothing more than an original idea. It was never the wealth or lifestyle of the rich and famous that motivated me, but rather the independence and freedom to make decisions on your own and to see a small seedling you nurture become a large organization that actually does something useful and provides employment for others. In this way, I feel that I’m doing my part for humanity and making the most out of the life I was given.
FINDING MY PASSION
I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career when I entered college. The one thing I did know was that I needed a solid foundation in Economics to help me understand where both my passions and abilities lied. Thus, I pursued my degree along that track. I always knew that at some point in my life I would want to pursue entrepreneurship, but coming from a small town, my perspective was a bit limited as most firms in the area were smaller or family run enterprises. With time, I discovered that I had a strong interest in technology and the promises of the new medium called the Internet. It was then that I realized that I wanted to focus my talents on combining my financial education and its application to technology and the Internet. And from these humble beginnings, my future was planned…
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
When I applied to the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania I was fortunate enough and very grateful that my Alma Matter provided an incredible level of financial aid to needy students that didn’t have the financial ability to pay on their own. I got a package from Penn that included loans, grants, and a work-study job on campus. With that assistance coupled with what my family could afford as well as spending some summers working in the U.S. Merchant Marine, I was able to graduate with my class. I’ll always be grateful to Penn for giving me such an incredible education when I needed it most and am proud to say that I paid off my educational loans in full just a few years after graduation. In addition, I’m active in my alumni community and each year we hire an intern from Wharton so that I can share the knowledge that I’ve learned over the years and hopefully help a new and aspiring mind on the path to their own success.
It was also important that I helped pay for my education because its hard to really understand what an education is worth until you are working for minimum wage to do so. When other students would sleep-in or miss class, I would make it a point to attend every lecture that I could. Because I didn’t come from a very wealthy family, it was good to know that my intelligence, drive and abilities were deemed strong enough to be amongst so many talented students. Even to this day, the people I met at Penn continue to be some of the brightest I’ve ever encountered — and among the most successful.
THE SEED IS PLANTED
I suppose what led me to be entrepreneurial came more out of necessity rather than convention. After living in San Francisco for about 6 months I was the unfortunate victim of a de-facto shutdown of investment-banking operations at Prudential Securities given the challenges endemic to the dot-com crash of 2000. Despite this unfortunate circumstance, I resolved myself to find employment in my same field and was very fortunate to be hired by another highly respectable investment-banking firm called Houlihan Lokey. Given that they specialized in distressed M&A, I believed that given the challenges presented by the dot-com sector at the time, I had landed in the right spot. Unfortunately, within 6 weeks our office got a call from headquarters in Los Angeles requesting that 5 people be laid off as part of a corporate downsizing. Despite working 7 days a week and being involved in a variety of incredibly challenging projects, I was laid off — again, being that I was the most junior hire at the time. It was shortly after that experience that I recall mentioning with conviction to my friends and family that I’d only work for myself ever again. And from that fateful decision I began the journey on my quest to become a successful entrepreneur.
What I enjoy most about being an entrepreneur is the fact that I have been involved with firms that each have sought to improve upon and reestablish what I feel have always been industries in need of repair. I wanted to bring a lot of the polish and focus on integrity back to sectors of the economy that need that help the most and in that way, I always have been grateful for the lessons learned while being a part of the investment-banking community. It was there that I saw how being an absolute perfectionist, working to the point of exhaustion, meeting deadlines and adhering to personal accountability we so revered that people literally would sleep at the office just to make sure they got the job done well. I wanted to bring that kind of discipline and quality to Main Street and I feel that through my companies, we are bringing the highest levels of professionalism to all of those who place their trust in us.
THE DRIVE TO KEEP GOING
I’ve always been a big believer that a great entrepreneur becomes great not because he alone is, but because he’s great at surrounding himself with the highest quality people he can. I suppose these days, after almost 15 years in successful business, that it’s the talent that I’m surrounded by daily that keeps me motivated to build. Its amazing what sort of ideas can come out of a team of brilliant individuals when they come together in pursuit of the same goal, all while adhering to a shared vision. And what’s most rewarding is when you see those collective ideas come together to create a working, living prototype of what you envisioned from day one. By definition, I feel entrepreneurs at their core are very creative people and that involves more than just being able to think big — it means they can also think small and put themselves into the shoes of anyone they work with to figure out ways to make their function that much better. It’s the people around me that inspire me to continue to do great things.
Over the past few years I’ve experienced a lot of success, but that success has never come easily and in many cases if not most I’ve had to work incredibly hard to turn failures into recoveries and adversity into advantage. You learn to ‘bob and weave’ so to speak as well as ‘roll with the punches’ more often than not and it truly does test your mettle to the extreme.
The reality is that often times bright and successful people of all shapes and sizes come under attack or are harshly criticized by detractors who have little motive other than the disturbing satisfaction felt by hurting another. I’ve personally experienced how disgruntled or frustrated individuals can take advantage of the innocent in negative ways, unfairly, for little more than personal ambition or simply in order to make themselves feel heard. What I’ve truly learned to understand is that there is no greater way to be acknowledged for your success than for another person to try to discredit it — it truly is the greatest indicator that you’ve made a positive difference in the world, especially if you’ve always achieved that success with your customers’ best interests at heart and with the support of your friends, family, and valued partners alike.
I’ve experienced both success and failure, and I recognize that failure is simply a further challenge on the road to success. Therefore, failure is never really failure unless you give up! I always strive to take a setback, learn from it, and apply that knowledge to all that I do going forward — and that has made all the difference in the world.
THE LONG JOURNEY
Perhaps the greatest milestone in my career occurred when the firm I’m currently most proud of, Optima Tax Relief, turned the corner to profitability and shortly thereafter, paid off all its start-up capital in full. It was a time when we, as a firm, were testing out a new concept in tax resolution, which was virtually unheard of prior to our launch. We made the business decision that in order to best serve our customers we would only charge the vast majority of our fees AFTER our legal and compliance teams completed a full investigation into an individual’s case. This was to make sure our objectives and resolution plan were fully transparent and only after this would we ask a client to make a commitment for services. Most other firms would collect their fees up-front with little or no investigation into a client’s overall financial picture and we knew that this was not a way to serve the best interests of our clients. The result of our novel concept was a resounding success and one that to this day I don’t think I’ll ever be more proud of.
In addition to building a profitable enterprise with Optima, a big turning point for me was when for the first time in my career I could proudly afford to hire some of the best senior management available to help on my quest to build one of America’s best companies. Given my success with Debtmerica and that fact that we always kept an eye out for the future as well as additional opportunities, we had the capital available to hire what I feel is one of the best assets I have, Optima’s management. With the right senior management in place, coupled with the best support team available, it truly is possible to do great things and finally include others to assist you in your mission. I encourage every entrepreneur out there to invest in finding and retaining the best people, share the dream with them, treat them with the respect they deserve and above all, recognize that it takes may parts to make a whole on the journey to success. Its one of the best things you could ever do.
At another point in my career, much longer after Optima became one of America’s largest, most compliant, and most successful tax resolution firms, I came under a malicious attack by detractors who sought to discredit me online by bringing forth grossly misleading, libelous and defamatory information with the sole purpose to harm my reputation and those working alongside me. In those attacks, facts were twisted and completely false and inaccurate assumptions were made about my character. At first these attacks were more surprising than anything else, as I didn’t think anyone would try so maliciously to harm me, all while hiding behind the guise of a news-reporting agency. I was wise enough to rise above it all and refused to engage in such conduct. Because of that decision, I know now that true character is witnessed by how well you let your integrity shine through when confronted by adversity and as a result the respect given to me by my colleagues only continues to grow.
When others I value found out about the libel and defamatory comments being said about me, they didn’t display their dismay or disapproval but rather, they conveyed their empathy and understanding — both staff and clients alike. They saw through all the rhetoric and to this day have remained loyal and dedicated members of my firms who I’m proud to say are my colleagues as well. Rather than making me weaker, the false allegations brought forth about me only made me wiser, more respected and even more driven to succeed. In reality, I am a stronger man because of it and have gotten the overwhelming support of my family and friends in the process.
Neither I, nor any company I have created has ever been found guilty of any crime and have never been formally charged or investigated for any sort of criminal activity whatsoever by any government or civil agency. I did get a speeding ticket last year, though, so I guess nobody is perfect.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
At my core, I’ve always been a very project oriented individual and like to start new initiatives often. In fact, I have always made it one of my life goals to be involved with new and interesting projects as often as I can so that I never let my creative energy go unused for long. Because of that, over the next few years I see myself contributing quite a bit toward new initiatives at all my firms whether that be in accessing new markets of opportunity or simply continuing to build in such a way where I can contribute my talents best. I have always had a keen interest in building systems, and by that I mean that I like to engineer or at least help engineer projects that keep us improving as much as we can. I’ve also believed that if you settle for the status quo you’ll eventually be stuck there, overtaken by someone who is more ambitious than you and I try to keep that in the back of my mind at all times.
Beyond the near future, I have always had a keen interest in international travel and new cultures and I could very well see myself getting more involved in a new initiative abroad or perhaps even close to home — in a different state. Being that I have spent so much time in the financial services industries, I would like to also try getting involved with something entirely new. I’ve always had a strong interest in real estate, development and agriculture because the idea of turning something like raw land into a beautiful example of architecture is probably a lot similar to the feeling of taking a blank canvas and turning it into a work of art. I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area most of my adult life and would like to try to get more involved in a rural setting and community. I grew up in a small town on Cape Cod and miss those country mornings and way of life quite a bit!