Written By Jeffrey A. Martinovich
I built a billion-dollar investment firm from zero. Following the 2008 markets crash and government accusations, I presided over its complete collapse. One hundred employees, thousands of clients, and a pristine reputation built over decades all evaporated literally overnight.
Death by a thousand cuts seemed to be the appropriate metaphor. The guilt and regret for letting down my investors, employees, community, and most terribly, my own family was crippling. Everything I had amassed over decades was gone. Far beyond the material loss was the pain of seeing my name, reputation, career, education, and charitable work erased. With the first article on the front page, I went from community leader to community pariah.
I had to choose between totally giving up or persevering for my stakeholders, my family, and myself. Today, I see so many people, so many business owners, in that same dark, scary place and I urge them to hang on, put one foot in front of the other, and persevere. Here are the four steps I utilized to regain my footing and find a path back to success:
1. Remember why you started this journey in the first place.
I had to regain my passion for leadership, for building something special, and for being a respected father and community mentor. This can be quite difficult with your name in the paper, so many others hurt and affected, and the public belief that if the government bureaucracy accuses you of something, you must be guilty. While the world is continually telling you that you are a failure and a fraud, you must find that place deep inside yourself where you still have self-respect and confidence in your own character and abilities.
I knew in my soul that no one in our firm had committed the nefarious acts that regulators alleged. We could find no evidence of wrongdoing. So I refused to follow the popular narrative during that crisis period. Even though it was perceived as the opposite, it was actually my passion for my company, my employees, and my clients that gave me the strength to stand up and defend us all. I refused three government plea offers and summoned the courage to take a stand for what we believed was the truth.
2. Recenter your principles.
My father, a true Horatio Alger story, always reminded me to “do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.” At the U.S. Air Force Academy we daily repeated the mantra, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” While we are all different, each of us operates by a set of underlying principles, ethics and an internal compass. During times of uncertainty, we must fall back on what we believe is true and right. If we operate in contradiction to our core principles, we will be misaligned and never able to find the strength to persevere. Ensure that you truly believe in your mission and in yourself, and this alignment will give you more strength than you ever imagined you possessed.
I was told that 98.5% of all federal cases result in conviction, and I was terrified. But I chose to defend my company and myself against the unlimited resources of the federal government.
3. Rugged Individualism is required to make it through.
Popular culture tells us it takes a village, someone owes us and the system will take care of us. But to persevere through great trials we must take full responsibility for the eventual outcome. While I was incredibly grateful for my beautiful fiancé, who stuck with me through my seven long years in prison, I convinced myself every day that I alone was responsible for my survival. This kept me strong and focused, and free of the dangers of depression, self-pity, and despair.
I took a job as the head law library clerk in a violent prison and taught myself federal criminal law the best I could. With a No. 2 pencil and a manual typewriter, I filed nearly five hundred motions, writs, letters, complaints, and appeals for the truth to come to light.
4. You must commit to going one step further than you thought possible.
Great trials are never a sprint, but always a marathon. In the 1993 film Rudy, Father Cavanaugh reminds the main character that “Praying is something we do in our time. The answers come in God’s time.” This battle will take longer than you think. It will be hard to imagine you have enough strength and courage to make it through to the other side. But you have to keep an unshakeable faith that everything will, eventually, be okay — even if you have no rational foundation for your belief. You have no other choice.
Representing myself, I won a federal suit to place me in a less violent facility, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court twice, two federal judges were removed from my case, and nearly seven years later I was transitioned to home confinement with my family.
Keep the faith. Finish the race. Perseverance is not the work of heroic action figures, but the daily commitment of a single mother to provide for her family, or the never-give-up promise of the father who continues his job search. You will make it through, and I will make it through. I have no doubt.
Jeffrey A. Martinovich is a First Gulf War Veteran, MBA, and CEO of JAM Accelerator, LLC, a business consulting and incubation firm. Previously, Jeff was Founder and CEO of MICG Investment Management, a billion-dollar wealth management firm. After the 2008 Financial Crisis, Jeff rejected three government plea offers, resulting in a 14-year prison sentence. Yet the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed twice, two U.S. District Court Judges were removed, and after nearly 7 years, he was released to home confinement in May 2020 to begin rebuilding his life. His book is Just One More: The Wisdom of Bob Vukovich. Learn more at jeffmartinovich.com