We recently came across a survey of how Americans define “making it.” Despite an admittedly small sample size, the results provide some insight into how the average American views success, which from career and financial perspectives, means an income in excess of $147,000, 31 hours of work a week, a 10 minute commute, 5.3 weeks of time off, a home worth $461,000 and a vehicle worth $41,986.
In our experience, the definition of success depends greatly upon perspective. We know many who would consider the survey results truly aspirational. We also suspect that on Wall Street, where earning hundreds of thousands of dollars and working 80 hour weeks is commonplace, these metrics would not be considered adequate markers of achievement. Still others would consider taking less than six weeks of vacation a year as disgraceful, regardless of financial position.
For us, we strongly believe there is no right or wrong answer for how one decides to define success – financial, relational, professional or otherwise – as these are deeply personal and often situational decisions. We do, however, believe it is important to deliberately think through what success looks like at the individual level. As Yogi Berra put it, “you’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
Berra’s advice holds for businesses as well. At our portfolio companies, we frequently talk about the importance of being successful on purpose instead of by accident. This means constantly pushing for a better understanding of unit economics, for more precise and higher frequency performance data, and for future growth plans oriented around proactively capitalizing on available opportunities. At Chenmark itself, success means acquiring companies with strong market positions and tirelessly working to improve their earnings power over an indefinite holding period. Importantly, this does not mean pursuing near term exit strategies or maximal IRRs, even if that may be a perfectly rational strategy for others in our space. While we understand the validity of alternate approaches, we feel comfortable with the trade-offs inherent in our deliberate definition of success as it authentically reflects what the Chenmark team seeks to achieve, both personally and professionally.