Last week, the TACG team braved the desert to attend the Inc. 5000 conference, a celebration of the nation’s Top 5000 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies. Surrounded by rows of palm trees and cacti, Palm Springs, California was home to some of the most innovative and inspiring business leaders to date. The three day event featured speaker sessions, education seminars, and networking events. The culminating event, a black tie gala, was a glamorous celebration of each and every company on the list. Among toasts and talks, TACG celebrated our achievement.

Speaker sessions featured a corporate star-studded lineup, from Ugg Founder Brian Smith, to marketing branding guru and star of Shark Tank, Daymond John. Each session offered valuable insight on what exactly dives success and successful people.

Brene Brown, speaker in the virally explosive Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability,” touched on some key takeaways that have really resonated with our team. Her presentation focused on the following question: “You can’t get to courage without vulnerability. But how many of you were raised to believe vulnerability is weakness?

It got me thinking, what emotion is at the ethos of success? Brene asked the crowd to name an instance in which they had been successful without needing to take a risk. Not a hand raised. It’s impossible – without risk taking, everyone would be successful. Brene continued: Without risk, would there be courage? Inherently, no. If courage drives risk, and risk drives success, and the path to courage is through vulnerability – then vulnerability is arguably the most key value for a company’s culture system. 

Alan Mulally, former President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, continued on this thought process. Alan joined the Ford Motor Company in 2006, during a time in which Ford was on the brink of bankruptcy and suffering a company culture crisis. “Working together, we could actually save Ford,” Alan Mulally recalls from 2006. “That plan worked out pretty well, don’t you think?”

Alan quickly set a new precedence among the Ford workforce: working together with open lines of communication, they could overcome their obstacles. He worked on transforming the culture so that executives could admit when they were struggling, vulnerable and all. Mulally emphasized the importance of emotional resilience among a workforce; that is, he emphasized the importance of trusting the process. No road to success is a straight one, and bouncing back from from failure is just as important as taking the first steps into your journey. Today, Ford continues to break company records in revenue reports.

As I write this, I sip from one of my Inc 5000 giveaway items, a S’Well water bottle. I’m reminded of speaker Sarah Krauss, founder and CEO of S’well, and an anecdote she shared with Inc. 5000 attendees. Before S’Well was a staple in every yoga bag, and before she teamed with designer giants like Lilly Pulitzer and J. crew, S’Well was simply a company in its infancy trying to share its dream with the world. With only 2 employees, and a handful of designs, Sarah had raised S’Well from the ground and managed to place a limited number bottles on a small number of regional Starbucks shelves. Then, a key moment happened. Sarah saw Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks at the time, standing alone. Grabbing a S’Well bottle and gathering her thoughts, she walked over and had a conversation with Mr. Schultz on S’well and it’s recent success in some of his stores. This conversation led to a meeting with the board at Starbucks, and consequently, a launch of her product nation-wide to over 3,300 stores.

On how she felt about the meeting, Sarah said, “I just sort’ve made a fool of myself.” However, I have a feeling Brene Brown would’ve been proud of her. I could imagine talking to an entrepreneurial giant like Howard Schultz is as close a feeling to true vulnerability as it comes – but in the mix of emotions of that conversation, I believe we can find the heartbeat of what drives some companies to their success. It’s at the crossroads of courage, fear, and authentic belief in your company that leaders can find themselves most inspiring, innovative and, in turn, successful. In 2017, S’Well was honored at the #99 spot on the Inc. 5000.

Merriam-Webster defines “bravery” as “showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty.” Those of us on the Inc. 5000 know what bravery looks like in action. It’s hours of relentless work; it’s facing brick walls and finding your pivot. Bravery is going into the office every day knowing failure will happen, but a surrender to your company goals will not.  

Amongst a buzzing crowd of the nation’s finest entrepreneurs, the final toasts were made at the gala Thursday night. Looking around, every face in the crowd was smiling ear to ear. This week, after all, was for celebrating successes.

But as our team left the JW Marriott one last time, I took a moment to myself to think back on the struggles we had faced, the brick walls we had encountered and the bumps along our road we had stumbled on. All year, I had fallen victim to the perspective that our team was most brave and inspiring when we achieved success. I was wrong. Our true bravery was shining through our obstacles. Those “dig deep” moments, at the bottom of a problem. For without that difficulty, we may have never  been courageous enough to reach the top.

Ugg Founder Brian Smith said during his session, “Something goes wrong and I say, ‘Damn, that’s good.’” I think I’ll start looking at it that way too, Brian.

To every TACG team member,  loyal client, and member of the Native Village of Eyak, the Inc. 5000 award is a direct result of your dedication to TACG and our journey. Without your passion, encouragement, and loyalty, we would not be able to stand as accomplished as we do today. To Inc. Magazine, it is an honor and privilege to celebrate with you! Thank you

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