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An Expensive Life Lesson

I try to rank life experiences – easiest to hardest – and from June to September of this year a legal battle with Vespoli, USA made the top of the list.

I continue to write and comment about the growth of Finish Line. Each day I spend my morning and night focused on the same question “how do I build Finish Line Shell Repair to be the biggest and best shell repair company in the country?” While I was working with a local club team in Maryland I met with CJ Bown at a regatta in Philadelphia. We discussed boat sale opportunities, repairs and general rowing related topics. I made the comment “wouldn’t it be wild if you worked with me at Finish Line?”

The comment weighed on both of our minds for a while. I remember seeing him a week later. He asked me how serious I was.

He is one of the only people in my universe that I can talk about rowing, Finish Line, boats, repairs and anything under the rowing sun without getting bored or tired. He is also someone I trust (just like I trust Dan Schenk). As an entrepreneur and business owner I am always striving to find the right team.

Once he submitted his two week notice, CJ was immediately told by his former employee that he was violating a non-compete clause in his employment agreement by going to work at Finish Line, and that Vespoli would use any means necessary to enforce the restrictions in CJ’s non-compete.

Soon after, Vespoli’s legal counsel warned Finish Line that it too would be held accountable if it went ahead in bringing CJ into Finish Line. I remember being asked by my father “is this something you want to go through? Do you trust CJ enough? Do you think this is the right move for the company? For your family? If you lose, this will create a ripple effect I don’t think you will bounce back from.”

I knew it would be a risk.  But I considered what the papers Vespoli sent me, sought counsel of friends and lawyers, and most of all – I considered my gut reaction about what was right for Finish Line.  I had tunnel vision. I knew what I needed to do.

Fast forward 4 months – we went through several depositions, countless hours reading documents, losing sleep every night, constant headaches, vomiting, and more than 16 hours in a court room in the middle of downtown Baltimore. Result?

We won.

What did I learn? What did FINISH LINE learn?

Following your gut is important in this world. If you second guess decisions you will never succeed. I learned that people, when trusted and supported, can do amazing things. I learned that lawyers win no matter the result.  I learned the rowing community is a lot smaller than I thought.  This dispute was a net negative for the rowing community.  Even among competitors, our marketplace is close-knit and for the most part, collegial.  We need to stay out of court and do our business in boathouses and on race courses – where all of us belong together.

Throughout those four months everything and everyone in my life was affected. My friendships got harder. Time with family was suffered greatly. I remember feeling like it was my fault. I remember having a short temper with anyone who came in contact with me. I remember complaining! The worst thing you can do is COMPLAIN! No one wants to hear your troubles – they have enough on their own.

Now that the lawsuit is behind us we are taking steps to improve the company, our general business processes, communication with current and future customers and communication among employees. I learned the importance of proper record-keeping and documentation and the importance of keeping track of E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.