Strategex Honors Working Moms
To celebrate Father’s Day this year, we sat down with our founder Peter Philippi.
Affectionately called “work dad” around the office, there’s no better person to ask at Strategex for life lessons about balancing parenthood with running a business.
2023 is a significant milestone for both the company and Peter: this year marks Strategex’s 30th anniversary. We sat down to explore what helped Peter lead a successful business and a family (who are very much involved in today’s operations).
For Peter, it’s not two separate entities—a family and a business—it’s one family business.
By design, the family is business and business is family.
A lot of our clients who lead businesses are also parents. A lot of our employees are also parents. You succeeded. I've met all your children; they're all well-adjusted. They are all successful. And, you have a company that has endured. By all accounts, you have done it. What does it take to be successful in your family life and in business?
Starting and running a business comes with great challenges. Owning a business and balancing that with family is even harder. As I reflect, I’d tell someone just starting: you have to have full support from your partner. I couldn’t have achieved what I did without the full support of my wife, Joyce. It meant the world to have somebody who was fully supportive: in good times and bad. She was not just emotionally supportive; she was supportive in the sense that she did the hard work of taking care of our four children—especially in those early days. I always said, “I got to go to work,” but Joyce is the one who really did all the work with four children born within five years. She had an incredible impact on our children, and Strategex wouldn’t exist if she hadn’t been there to support not just me, but our children as well.
Secondly, you must have a purpose. From the beginning, my purpose was to support my family and build a business that would impact lives. Not only the lives of my clients, but also the lives of my wife, children, grandchildren, and future generations. While this seemed an overwhelming task, I never lost sight that I could not let the business consume every waking hour or I was defeating the whole purpose of having a family. Don’t get me wrong, I put in long hours and had to travel frequently, but as soon as the task at hand was complete, I would race to the airport to catch an earlier flight home, or scramble to the train after my last meeting so that I could make it home in time for dinner. My family always knew my heart was with them and that I would do everything in my power to get home as fast as I could.
Finally—and this took me some time to fully realize—you must have a strong team. Surround yourself with people who balance your skill set, are smarter than you, and are as motivated as you. You can’t do it alone.
I’ve seen family businesses where it seems the business breaks the family down. And yet, with Strategex, I've seen that the Philippi family is united by it. How did you accomplish this?
It was and is very intentional. Everything we did, including the company, we built around the family.
Joyce and I have made our children and our family the center of our lives. I'll be honest with you; it's something that I did not learn from my parents. I learned it from Joyce. Joyce is an incredibly unselfish, giving person, and she taught me how to put our children first.
From the beginning my intention was for Strategex to be a true family business. Now that my children are adults and my grandkids are maturing, it’s another means by which the family is united. Joyce and the kids were always a part of the business in the sense that it was a frequent topic of conversation in the home. They rode the roller coaster of highs and lows with me as a part of our daily lives.
Eventually, I was fortunate enough that all my kids worked at Strategex. There's no greater joy than to see my children functioning in such a cohesive and respectful way. Every one of them is extremely opinionated, but they know how to calibrate that with an incredible love for each other, which is totally unconditional. It's contagious. It has bled into the fiber of our culture at Strategex.
We've always said, we're not a family business because it's owned and populated by our family. It's because we truly view all of our people at Strategex as an extension of our family. It's not uncommon for someone to address me as "Work Dad." Present company included.
And now you have your son as the CEO—he is loved by all, and he has guided the company to new heights. You must be proud.
We're very fortunate that we've got my son David, who's been running the company for over five years now. He deeply cares for every employee. Behind the scenes, I've seen him weep over the difficult times and shed a tear of joy over the big wins. I am glad I can be there as a person who has been through it and as his dad. Sure, I am proud he’s successful, but I am even prouder that he's got the heart. He cares for the people, and that's his focus and priority.
Our oldest daughter, Sharon, has been at Strategex with me for 30 years, almost from the beginning, what a privilege! She’s had a front-row seat to the building of the business, in all its iterations, and has learned and led many aspects of the business, and she does it with dignity and her personal charm. She has always been an encouragement to me and now I see her cheering on her brother and supporting him—that brings me true joy.
It's all about people, beginning with our family. People are our joy. Family is who we are. I think it’s important for family businesses to remember that your values and priorities as a family will shape your company. A healthy, supportive, loving family will set the company's whole culture.
Every company goes through challenging periods. How did you navigate the hard times as a parent and business leader?
There were hard times. I’ll never forget February 1st, 2001. We had been in business a little over eight years when the business—literally overnight—went down to zero revenue. We had nothing. There was a recession. Our clients were publicly held companies and our services at the time were a discretionary spend for them. For two years we really struggled financially. We mortgaged our home and took everything from our home equity so that we could support the family. But I had my wife’s full support and trust. There was one point in June of 2003 when we were still down, when the thought occurred to me, “Should I stop pouring money into this business and go get a regular job?” That lasted about 10 minutes. Instead, I hired some great people to help me grow the business and enhance our service offering which propelled us to incredible growth.
When you own a business, you’re bringing your family along on the journey: good or bad. So, it’s not just professional risk, it’s personal.
Again, it comes back to support and purpose. Without those, it’s hard to manage the tough times.
There are times I have a bad day at work, or I'm distracted by a problem I must solve. Sometimes I bring that home...And maybe I'm a little short with my kids. Maybe I'm a little distant from my family because I'm so distracted by and focused on solving a problem. Do you have any advice in that area?
It takes discipline, but you must say, "I'm home now. My job needs me, but, my kids and my husband/wife/partner need me more than anybody else in this whole world. I'm going to put that aside and I'm going to give myself to them now.” Go ahead and worry about it after 10:00 pm if you want to stay awake all night, but don't let it interfere. You don’t have to pretend that nothing ever bothers you. You can say, “I am exhausted; I've had a hard day at work, I've got issues to deal with, but you mean the most to me. You are my life.” Give yourself to your family and you'll never regret it. No one does it perfectly, but that is the intent and spirit.
I imagine you've had to say “no” a lot. That must have been tough. How do you do that?
That's where 80/20 comes in. Who and what are your priorities? Who are the people that really matter in life? Remember: a job is just an enabler. To enable you to do the things that really matter in your life and to spend time with the people that really matter in your life. You keep that focus—that's critical. That's what allows me to say “no.”
Learn to say “no,” with grace and provide a good reason. You've got to settle in your own heart what you're going to do. Remember: it is just as important what you're not going to do. Say “no” to things that don’t contribute to who you are or who your family is. As a leader, you must find a way to balance the demands—the demands of running a business, being responsible for payroll, being responsible for people, being responsible for clients, and being responsible for so much, and yet still you must keep the focus on the family.
Which one is harder? Leading a business or leading a family?
Leading a family for sure. I think parenting is the most challenging, and yet the most consequential and rewarding. If you don't want to do it, don't have kids because you have to go all in or you're going to have regrets. You must give them complete devotion.
Let's pretend you are sitting with the CEO of a billion-dollar organization. What if this person could pitch a whale account—a once-in-a-lifetime sales opportunity or see his/her kid as the star of their school play for one night only? Which one would you advise that person to attend?
Go see the play. Get somebody else to take the meeting or find another time to meet with them.
If they don't accept my priorities and my values, I don't want to work with them. It's not worth the money.
Believe me, I know it’s easier said than done. That’s life: little big decisions constantly. But grant yourself grace; you never do it perfectly. No one can do it perfectly. There’s no such thing as a perfect human being. The overall thrust, the overall heart, and the overall priority need to be there. There are plenty of opportunities to do it right, and when you do, enjoy it. It goes fast.
About Peter Philippi: Peter is the Founder and Chairman of Strategex. He has over 30 years of direct experience working with top-level management to drive change, profitability, and growth.
In 1993, Peter started Strategex with the mission to teach clients how to grow through strategic planning, customer insights, and business development.
The company has since evolved to be an international consulting firm, dedicated to implementing strategies that facilitate our clients’ growth.
Peter manages a vast range of long-term client relationships in both the manufacturing and services sector. He is an exceptional communicator and facilitator with an unusual ability to bring cohesiveness to a management group. He conducts 80/20 Profit & Growth seminars and workshops across the country.