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TERNing Four

I have birthdays on the brain. Everywhere I look I see cakes and balloons and pointy hats.

For starters, as a father of three, it seems each weekend sees me lurching desperately from one Kidnagymnafunzooazium to the next, toting gift bags with billowing pastel tissue paper.

Indeed, for the past few years, Classmate Birthday Gifts is an established household budget line item, right up there with "car" and "mortgage".

But this year is special. As Montrealers, we find ourselves in the midst of the summer of birthday celebration that is Montreal's 375th and Canada's 150th. That's a lot of parades and fireworks.

All of the bombast is enough to make us almost forget that four years ago, around about now, TERN Financial Group Inc. was incorporated.

Where does the TIME go?

The simple answer is: on the newsstand beside The Economist.

Waiting to Exhale

In human terms, four years not so much of a milestone.It basically marks the point at which birthday candles are extinguished by air being expelled from one's lips as opposed to the flames being doused in drool.

Okay, so there's no arguing, it is a big milestone.

In startup terms, however, it might just be the onset of the golden years.

Industry Canada data indicates that survival rates for businesses in Canada decline over time. About 85 per cent of businesses that enter the marketplace survive one full year, 70 per cent survive for two years and 51 per cent survive for five years.

I will take that as a portent of good things.

Date of Thrones

Roughly speaking, we've been around about as long as Pope Francis, Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge (Will & Kate's kid), twerking, the words "selfie" and "binge-watching", and the movie Frozen.

And here I thought the song Let it Go had been bouncing around my head for decades.

Four years ago, we threw caution to the wind and positioned our sails towards new horizons. With our eyes scanning the heavens, we set a bold course into uncharted virgin territory, while below decks our holds brimmed with treasured wares to be traded on foreign shores.

What followed was a little, well, actually, a lot less poetic.

Not-So-Ancient Mariners

Nautical legends aside, we willingly hurled ourselves into an entrepreneurial undertaking in an industry sector requiring a preparatory compliance effort of at least one year and a product sales cycle typically running over two years.

Since then there has been no shortage of adventure, but it appears we have made it through the storm; the nights when it darkened skies threatened o'erhead and angry seas swelled beneath our creaking beams…wait, what?

Somebody get me an eyepatch and a bottle of ale…and nevermind the eyepatch.

You'll forgive me if the experience causes one to slightly over-dramatize the narrative a wee bit, but re-living the perilous early days lends itself to a certain degree of artistic license.

The Kids are Alright

There was a time when an enterprises youth was an almost insurmountable liability, certainly among the international financial services-buying elite.

Blue-chip companies simply wouldn't countenance doing business with upstarts and newcomers. The new kids on the block were perceived as unstable and untested, while Wall Street and Canary Wharf behemoths were comparatively speaking, hallowed towers of permanence and strength.

My, what a difference a few years can make.

Fast just a little bit forward to a post Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Northern Rock world and now old doesn't necessarily equate to 'trustworthy', and new no longer denotes 'unproven'.

All of the sudden, the specter of a newcomer doesn't seem appear as an unappetizing option to prospective business partners.

Quite the contrary, in fact. On the buy side of the equation, the change is equally as dramatic.

A surprising portion of globally recognized household brand names haven't been around that much longer than us. It is precisely these organizations that recognize our lean operating model, innovative products and new world perspectives as refreshing assets and material differentiators.

Feel the Burn

Lao Tzu, in the Taoist text Te Tao Ching professed "the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long."

Ironically, with the rate of change in today's global economy, there has been more than one engaged target account with whose meteoric flame shone brightly but briefly …vaporizing entirely upon entry into the intensely competitive atmosphere. Which is to say we outlasted some prospects. Such is the pace and complexity of business today.

Nevertheless, four years ago we had a few lonely push pins stuck into the world map indicating clients who were the first to place their faith in our capabilities. Today it is a veritable chia pet of commercial activity.

Just as we've seen summer students, interns and mentees move on to establish themselves as career professionals, we've seen ideas germinate into products, and policies come to life as operational procedures.

We have watched as acquaintances blossom into enduring friendships, and most importantly, continue to learn from our successes and failures.

Barring any surprises, one day years from now, young Prince George will ascend as the reigning Monarch of England.

For now, though, he's a four-year old with a very bright future.

I'm feeling it. 

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