Finding My ‘Why’ In Omaha (Again)

Po Bronson

Po Bronson

During multiple points in your career, you’re bound to feel lost. It happened to me around 2002 — at age 32. I loved being a husband and father. But my professional career was at a crossroads — stuck somewhere between the print journalism scrap heap and… Frankly, I didn’t know what.

I read books like Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life? I began working with executive recruiters to potentially march in a new professional direction. Somewhere around 2003, a recruiter asked me to interview for a job in Omaha, Nebraska. My wife and I — along with our extended family — lived on Long Island. But I was lost, so I went searching for career answers in Omaha.

Finding My Why In Omaha: Part I

I quickly discovered that Omaha is a great town, with great businesses and great people. But I came home depressed. The 2003 job opportunity involved a media company that had proprietary terminals — sort of like classic Bloomberg terminals applied to the agriculture market. I was convinced the business model would collapse as the Web, broadband and mobile technologies eventually steamrolled proprietary systems — even in the agriculture market. I didn’t find my “Why” during that first trip to Omaha. But it was a blessing in disguise.

Instead, I wound up connecting with Amy Katz (my eventual business partner) on a few consulting projects for Fortune, Fortune Small Business and some other media brands. Amy and I had met back at Ziff Davis in 1998 or so. She was in sales. I was in content. Yada, yada, yada, we eventually launched a business together in 2008, sold it in 2011, and emerged again to launch ChannelE2E in 2015.

Finding My Why In Omaha, Part II

Plenty of folks have influenced the way Amy and I build businesses and content platforms. And more importantly, “why” we build businesses.

Ziff Davis veterans and mentors like Al Perlman, Gary Bolles and Mike Perkowski helped Amy and me during numerous career inflection points. And new influencers emerged when we built our previous company in 2008.

Arlin Sorensen

Arlin Sorensen

One of them was Arlin Sorensen and the team at HTG Peer Groups. Somewhere around 2009 or 2010, Sorensen invited me to attend HTG meetings in Omaha. Frankly, I wasn’t all that anxious to return to that city. My earlier trip there involved the search for a dream job that didn’t materialize.

But Arlin kept asking. So I finally agreed to attend some HTG meetings in Omaha and Texas somewhere around 2011. My eyes opened. My ears opened. I heard stories about MSPs from across the country who were trying to build better businesses. Not necessarily to “get rich.” But certainly to give their families better lives. And to give their employees better lives. I sort of found my “why” during that second trip to Omaha.

Finding My Why In Omaha, Part III

Fast forward to 2013 or so. At the IT Nation conference hosted by ConnectWise, I attended a keynote from best-selling author Simon Sinek. Somehow, I hadn’t previously heard about his book titled Start With Why.

simonsinekThe thesis was simple. Too many startup businesses focus on “what” they produce and “how” they produce it. Sinek told attendees to figure out “why” their businesses even exist in the first place. I was hooked on his message.

Fast forward to sometime around 2014. Arlin invited me to see his family, his farm and his business in Iowa. And yes, I’d have to fly through Omaha. Again.

I accepted the invite. I learned more about what makes Arlin and HTG tick. Around that time, Amy and I had pretty much wrapped up work on our previous business. We had sold it in 2011. Remained with it for 2.5 years. And we were pretty much done with that chapter of our professional lives. It was mid-2014.

I was now 44 — more than a decade past my first trip to Omaha. Still searching for my why. But I was getting closer to it.

Finding My Why: Answer Revealed

During my professional hiatus in 2015, I heard from numerous IT industry sources. Some of the chatter involved their businesses. But mostly, it was about their lives.

Meanwhile, Amy and I each had great lives at home with our respective families. But we were beginning to think about another move in the IT media space. We kept hearing from business builders. Business buyers. Business sellers. But we saw the bigger picture and latched onto it:

“It’s about the journey.”

michael drake

J. Michael Drake

I spoke with J. Michael Drake, CEO of masterIT. I had covered his business several years earlier. At times, he had M&A aspirations. But at this point, he had found happiness building a sustainable company that gave back to his community. I hinted to him that Amy and I might be back soon with something that would potentially share his updated story with the world. The little I shared was starting to sound familiar:

“It’s about the journey.”

Finding My Why In Omaha, Part IV

Fast forward to present day. This evening, in fact. I’ve just arrived in Omaha.  Again. And I’ll be heading to HTG Peer Group’s IT Channel Summit tomorrow — “on the farm” in Iowa.

Has this destination become a “Field of Dreams” for me? In a sense yes. Surrounded by IT entrepreneurs and channel leaders, I feel like I’m “in” my element. But on the other hand, this blog entry and my career are no longer about a destination.

By now you surely know:

“It’s about the journey.”

Thanks for taking the journey with us. To Omaha and just about every other IT channel destination on the map. And thanks for sharing your stories with us. Without the learnings you share, our journey on ChannelE2E — and in business — would come to a screeching halt.

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    Bryan Badger:

    I’ve followed you for years Joe. I too was at the same IT Nation with Simon Sinek, however it was your words just now that finally sunk in with me. Thank you for putting this so simply and reminding me and hopefully everyone who reads this to focus on the why.

      Joe Panettieri:

      Hey Bryan: Thanks for your readership over the years. Please keep me posted as Integral reaches new milestones, etc. And be sure to say hi if/when we’re at the same conferences.

    Regina Ciardiello:

    Thanks, Joe, for sharing this heartfelt and personal story. You always have a great way of providing the reader with a humanistic approach to an industry-related topic that keeps everyone engaged. I’m finding that now, as a mom of two young boys (aged 1 and 4), that trying to balance taking care of a family while trying to run a business, is a challenge in and of itself! Each day is always different, and I never know what might happen by the time 5 pm rolls around!

      Joe Panettieri:

      Regina: I can completely relate. When we started our previous business, Amy visited my house and met my family. My wife and I have three sons who were ages 7, 6 and 2 at the time. I missed a lot of years with them. Fast forward to present day and they’re approaching ages 18, 17 and 11. If I could change one thing I would have done a much better job over the years always planning our weekends as a family together. Businesses take time to build. But don’t sacrifice the weekends.

      Great to hear from you. My best to you and your family.


    Jay McBain:

    Great backstory Joe – always great to reflect and ponder what “might have been”. The Wheat Guy, AgriMentor and Tractorse2e would never see the light of day!

      Joe Panettieri:

      Thanks for reminding me to renew a few URLs… You never know.

    Ted Warner:

    Hey Joe, I too have been to The Farm. What a great experience. Love you musings about your trips to Omaha, and the infamous “Farm”. Thanks for your blogging and reporting. It’s a breath of fresh air.

      Joe Panettieri:

      Hey Ted: Thanks for the thoughtful note and all the great insights you’ve shared with me over the years. Sort of ironic timing for your comment. My shoes are a bit muddy amid the alleged “fresh air.” 😉

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