24 years ago, I stormed out of my former agency with nothing in hand after finding out that my employer had once again crossed a line and it was the last straw. After walking out, I was angry, scared, and in shock. I arrived home and immediately sat down on the floor and cried. In a moment I threw away 10 years of my career. I wiped my eyes and thought of my options. I could crawl back, apologize, and continue working with the same dysfunctional management OR I could do what I’d wanted for years and open my own firm. I called my Mother as all good sons do and told her what I’d done and she was proud of me for standing up for myself and gave me a $5,000 loan to get started. You have to love Mothers and one month later I paid her back with 100% interest.
The most important call I made was to my largest client, Louise Verret, Personnel Director at Patton Boggs & Blow. Fortunately, it was MLK day and their offices were closed so my former firm could not go after them until Tuesday morning. I called Louise at home and told her what I’d done. She responded with “Well Sweet Pea, it’s about damn time and I have three openings I need to be filled” I was off! I had no website, no phones, no fax machine, no computer, and no office. I spent the next 6 hours setting up a business phone, buying equipment, and tried to find an office. More importantly, what would I call myself? I knew my former agency would not tell anyone where I went or how to find me. I have to use my name so I could be found by calling information or using the yellow pages. (Remember this was 1995). Steffan & Company was born! I went to the Arlington County business tax office and registered my business and business name. They asked me to put down my projected first-year gross receipts and I had no idea. Would I be successful or go down in flames? So, I put down $20,000 and the wonderful lady behind the counter told me she could tell I would be a success based on my personality, determination, and organization. I thanked her profusely and told her if I was a success, I’d buy her a Mercedes!
Fast forward one year and thanks to many friends and family I had an office, equipment, staff and did $297,000 in gross receipts. Every client I had followed me as did many of my former employers’ clients. I was very grateful. I walked into the tax office and my lovely business tax psychic was behind the counter and flashed me a smile. I said I’m here to pay my taxes and I have a gift for you. She laughed and I handed her a check and a Robin’s egg blue box with a white satin ribbon bow. She gave me a huge smile and said: “I told you so”. She opened the box with a card that read “I did not forget” In the Tiffany & Co box was a gold charm bracelet with the first of many Mercedes Benz charms to remind her that her support made a difference. Due to county law, she could not accept a real Mercedes so I had to make due. Sadly, she only received six charms before her untimely death. Her wife still wears it.
In 2011, a year after Louise Verret retired from Patton Boggs. To my great delight, she joined Steffan & Co., as our Vice President of Legal Services. She still tells me what to do and how to do it and I never argue because love is stronger than anything.
My advice is to:
Never give up on a dream
Never stay in a toxic situation because of fear or insecurity
Never believe the negative press
Know that somedays will be incredibly difficult, but happiness is only a call or email away
Love and cherish the people in your personal and professional life because they are family
In 24 years, I’ve employed over 200 incredible staff, placed just under 26,000 people in new careers, went national in 2012, and I still love what I do every day.
A heartfelt sincere thank you to every client, candidate, and friend that brought us to this anniversary.