As much as we don’t like to admit it, setbacks are unavoidable in business. But what really makes the difference is not whether we encounter failures – because we all do – it’s how we respond to them.

The experience of a setback in business reminds me of the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing.” Even when the odds are stacked against you, you have to persevere for your sake and the sake of your company. It’s a situation I’ve certainly experienced before.

“Don’t stop believing,

Hold on to that feeling”

— Journey

The Setback

Twenty years ago I was with a telecom company that offered high-end data services. It doesn’t sound like much now, but back then we were developing 10-megabit and higher connections between cities. This was around the time when services of even 1.5-megabit was advanced!

One of our clients during this time was one of the major investment banking companies in the same league as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan. They were using our 1.5-megabits service since we hadn’t yet fully developed our 10-megabit service. Unfortunately, our company wasn’t performing up to our service level agreement.

The client called us into their conference room to discuss our mistakes, and they video recorded us like we were providing congressional testimony. They sat up on a stage looking down at us and went through EVERY single error we’ve made over the past six months. It was brutal! In the end, they decided to end business with our company. We were devastated!

The Response

As I walked out the door with four other team members, our sales executive inquired about the idea of giving them 10-megabits service between all cities in the United States. It was almost ridiculous to even suggest at the time. The highest speed the client ever had nation-wide for this type of service was 1.5-megabits – the client hesitated just for a second and then replied, “No, I don’t think so. We’re done here.”

That night the client called and said, “Maybe we should talk about that 10-megabit service.” The president of our company flew out on the red-eye from the west coast, and we met with the client.

After hammering out logistics, we agreed to move forward with the groundbreaking, cross-country high-speed data service. Before leaving the client said, “Well, don’t screw up again, because once we put our employees on this high-speed service, there’s no turning back. You guys have GOT to make this happen.”


We put together a roll-out plan…executed as if our lives depended on it…we made it happen and we exceeded their expectations. The client was so impressed and said we really stepped up. The client was so happy with the effort, they gave our operations team Christmas presents that year!

The challenge actually helped us. Not only did we save the client, but we were also able to prove our vision wasn’t just vaporware!

While pitching to larger prospects, we would mention this high-profile client with 10-megabit service cross-country. Soon, more companies wanted our services. Our company continued to grow in value, and was eventually sold in the late 90s.

“Don’t stop believing,

Hold on to that feeling”

— Journey

The selected lyrics ring especially true when starting a business. The excitement of innovation is what keeps you pushing forward through difficult times. The reason we were creating the 10-megabit service wasn’t just for the speed – it was to create something new that had never been done before! And as they say, “The Rest is History” as we have 100-megabit service into our HOMES now!

The Lesson

We could’ve easily admitted defeat when we encountered our setback. If we conceded defeat, we wouldn’t have been poised for a triumphant comeback. The success of the company was due to our resilience. We didn’t stop believing in our product and ourselves.

Do you believe in your product or service? Are you creative in handling tough customer situations? Are you able to get back up swinging when you and your company encounter a setback? If not, adjust. If yes…use the story both internally and externally to catapult your company to success!

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: Don’t Stop Believing was on Journey’s biggest studio album “Escape”. Recording sessions began in April 1981, and lasted until the middle of June. Escape was released on July 31, 1981, and immediately, the album became a mainstream success. The album, which has thus far sold nine times platinum, went to number one on the album charts later that year.  And of course, we all remember it as the song played at the end of the final episode of The Sopranos.

BAND ON WIKI: (band)




I’ve met many people – including CEOs and other top executives – who seem to live in the past. Whether it’s regretting a mistake or wishing for the way things used to be, it’s a negative source of energy that will drain you and your company.

Mistakes happen, but we learn from them and we move on. At least, that is what we should be doing. Wishing you or your company had done something differently isn’t going to change what you can do in the future to improve your situation.

Or maybe your business changes, your entire industry changes, or the economy changes in a big way (e.g. The Great Recession) and you haven’t adjusted to the new normal. Today, more than ever, a disruptive technology or business model like Uber, AirBnB, Amazon, etc., can make even the best CEO or executive yearn for the days of old. But if you’re sticking with what you’ve always done and not rolling with the changes then you’re going to be run over by the competition.

Get an outside perspective

Sometimes you don’t or can’t realize something’s wrong. However, someone from the outside might see what you can’t. That’s why joining a peer group is a great idea, because we may not even realize we’re the source of negative energy.

If you don’t have an advisor or peer group to tell you what the signs are to look for when there’s no excitement in your office, then you might want to look hard in the mirror and realize the problem is you. Your employees are looking to you for leadership. Even when you don’t know they’re looking at you, they’re looking at you.

Take ownership

It’s bad enough if employees are down in the dumps, but if you’re the CEO, everyone’s feeding off your energy. A fellow CEO once told me he was having a hard time going to work, as his employees were actually BORING…no zest for anything!

I told him it’s evident he’s “showing up” differently than he was in the past.  He has minimal or even negative energy, therefore his employees reflect that same energy back to him.  “Frankly,” I told him, “it’s you.” Once a CEO realizes how their energy affects their employees and takes ownership for it, then the company can rebound.

Don’t stay stuck for long

I have to admit that on more than one occasion, I’ve fallen into this trap of living in the past.  Now if I find myself start heading down that path of negative thinking, I mindfully tell myself to knock it off. The past is in the past.

If I hear the CEOs and executives I work with going down this negative path, I tell them it’s okay to have a pity party, but you need to make it quick so you aren’t dragging anyone down with you. This is one party where you don’t want to invite any of your employees or your team members. Make it short, and move on!

Don’t look back, ooh a new day is breakin’
It’s been so long since I felt this way
I don’t mind ooh where I get taken
The road is callin’, today is the day

I can see, it took so long just to realize
I’m much too strong not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around, oh yes I will

It’s a bright horizon and I’m awakin’ now
Oh I see myself in a brand new way

— Boston, “Don’t Look Back”

Once you put the past behind you, it is like a new day is breakin’. You will feel like a new person after you realize that living in the past has been holding you back and holding you down. When you finally realize and admit your negative energy is part of the problem, then it is a bright horizon and you can see yourself and your company in a brand new way.

So today you find you are looking in the rear view mirror on any topic, acknowledge it, learn from it, then rip off the mirror and start looking out through the windshield. The road ahead is much more exciting.

Brian’s Musical Inspiration:

RIFF: This is the title track and first song on Boston’s second album. Their debut album is one of the best selling of all time, so there were great expectations for this one. The song is about looking ahead and making the most of your time on Earth.