Over the years of building 97th Floor, the hardest decisions to make were often the ones that were best for the company but not so easy for me personally. Well, today is the hardest of those decisions in that I announced to the company in our January kick off meeting that I will be transitioning from CEO to Chairman of the Board, effective June 1, 2020.
The natural evolution of 97th Floor has brought us here. I am not the best person to take it from where it is to where I would like it to go. The funny thing is that as I started to have these thoughts about a year ago, I wasn’t nervous, I didn’t feel trepidation about it. It felt right. Of course I am sad that I won’t be as involved with the people of 97th Floor. I love them all dearly. Paxton Gray, our current EVP of Operations, will be taking my place as CEO.
Paxton is the reason I have zero hesitation or fear. He loves marketing as much as I do, and he has more than proven himself in being an invaluable leader over his 7 years as an employee at 97th Floor. Wayne Sleight, our current COO and 97th Floor’s first true employee, who will be joining me on the board in January 2021, shared a story today of Paxton’s first months at the company. Paxton was new sitting in the worst possible seat (right under the Nerf basketball hoop) as an entry level employee. He didn’t let the fact that he was new stop him from getting involved, but would hash things out with Wayne and go head to head, challenging systems, processes and expectations. He has demonstrated ownership since the first day of his career. Pax is ready, and I have 100% confidence in him that he will take 97th Floor to the next level (pun absolutely intended). He will grow the company by leaps and bounds, and he won’t do it at the expense of our clients, team members, or culture. He has already been doing it out in the open--and behind the scenes--for years.
97th Floor is so much more than a marketing company; it is a living breathing thing that marches to the beat of its own drum. It was built around one idea: always do what’s best for the client. If what we do isn’t working for the client, then what are we doing? This is at the center of everything, and it has always gauged us. It’s what drives us.
I may be wearing rose colored glasses, but I believe in the power of marketing. Marketing shapes the world, it steers our collective consciousness for better or worse, and I’ve always strived to be on the right side of that. Marketing has enabled our clients to create more jobs, open new offices, launch charities, and have give-back initiatives. Marketing affects every part of our lives--from your friend posting on Instagram about her new favorite shampoo to the billboards along the highway to politicians tweeting to justify their support of a cause--, and while that can be exhausting, it can also be exciting. I truly feel every day that 97th Floor is changing the world for the better by helping our clients and supporting our team members.
I am so blessed and so lucky to have the people I have had around me my whole life. My mother and father were the best: they always supported me in my crazy ideas that changed all the time until landing on 97th Floor. They never discouraged me. My siblings have been a huge inspiration as well. We are an annoying bunch, always analyzing products and ideas. My wife, my wife, my wife: in 2004 we had twins and we were struggling and by 2005 she supported and in fact encouraged me to take the leap: quit my job and go full-time on 97th Floor. I worked in our unfinished basement in the dead of winter with my jacket on and a little space heater. I would come up in-between naps when the boys were awake and I would head back down at night after everyone was asleep. It was like that for years before we got an office and more stability. She supported me when I had to buy diapers on a credit card because we didn’t have enough in the checking account, and she celebrated when we closed a big client. She has pushed me so hard, and she is the perfect partner as I am a hopeless optimist and she is the realist that steers me in the end. My twin boys, Cove and Braxton, who are literally my best friends: thank you for inspiring me and for thinking (or at least being good at pretending) your dad is cool. In business, no one has helped me, supported me, and challenged me more than Wayne Sleight. I started 97th Floor on my own, but we wouldn’t be a formidable business without Wayne. He is truly my business partner and best friend, and we have still got a lot left to do. Thank you for not being a “Yes Man.” There was nothing I needed more.
Over the last 15 years, 97th Floor has built the foundations of what will be a legacy. We empower our 97 team members (yes, we actually have exactly 97 employees right now. That feels like it should be a sign) through trust and autonomy; we encourage the scales to be tipped in favor of life compared to work. We launched a world class wellness program that has changed lives, and we give 1% of our gross to charities and organizations that our team members choose. We love getting to work every day, we love marketing, and most of all we love our clients. Without them, we would be nothing.
I am so excited about what the future will bring for 97th Floor. I’m excited about how this change will enable the company to grow, how it will help our employees to do amazing work, and how we will make our clients even more successful. The past fifteen years have been the best in my life, and I look forward to the next fifteen -- and even fifty -- to see 97th Floor absolutely change the world.