Brian Williams | Crain's San Antonio

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Brian Williams

Background:  

Brian Williams is a partner at Carl Marks Advisors in Houston, where he provides oilfield services companies with insights on transactions and special situations to help create value for their businesses. He’s worked in the industry for 20 years as an investment banker as well as inside companies in operating functions and as a board member. He previously was the co-founder, CFO and director of Cretic Energy Services, which he led from business plan to $40 million in fundraising to execution, including building the business to $50 million in sales and $20 million in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) in the first year.

The Mistake:

Finding myself — through my own fault or no fault of my own — in an organization that wasn’t the best fit for my skill set. 

After getting my Harvard MBA, I went to Simmons & Co., an oilfield services investment banking boutique, and was there nine years. It was terrific from a fit standpoint: a small, dynamic firm, where everyone was connected and understood and worked with their peers and bosses simultaneously, all rowing in the same direction.

Then I joined Tristone, a Canadian investment bank that had a big presence in Houston, to head up oilfield services investment banking. Tristone was eventually sold to Macquarie. I learned that smaller firms are less opaque in how decisions are made and that managing political relationships is more important when you work in larger organizations.

It’s not enough to make your clients happy and make money. You have to manage up. I feel like I wasted a lot of time and effort on politics and bureaucracy. It was clear it wasn’t going to work for me, with a boss in New York I never talked to, so we had a parting of ways.

It’s not enough to make your clients happy and make money. You have to manage up.

The Lesson:

Don’t hang around too long. Skills that make you successful in one organization don’t necessarily make you successful in another. You have to be more aware, to listen to that voice in your head that says, “This isn’t the right environment for me personally or professionally,” and move on.

Now I’m back to a boutique, a specialist firm, where there is no bureaucracy, just myself and other partners — smart, energetic folks who are rowing in the same direction and have the same desire to do good work.

You have to find the right fit. Don’t be afraid to listen to that voice in your head that it’s time to make a change. Find what you’re good at and find a place to go do it.

Follow Carl Marks Advisors on Twitter at @CarlMarksAdvis.

Photo courtesy of Brian Williams

Do you have a good story you'd like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email Nancy Ryan at nryan@crain.com

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Houston.