On Sabbatical: Altitude Partners’ Commitment to the Business

Gwen Shields


Gwen takes a month off to recharge, refine role for continued success and client engagement. 

Since the 1980s, business expert after business expert has written about the importance of working “on” the business rather than “in” the business.

Michael Gerber may have started the trend when in 1986 he published E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, and then The E-Myth Revisited, which became one of the top-selling business books ever.

And just last month, this Entrepreneur article addressed the topic again.

Clearly, such a theme – that a business owner or partner eventually must mature from task-doer to big-picture thinker – must have sticking power to penetrate business leadership philosophy spanning several decades.

And at Altitude, we have drunk the Kool-Aid.

That is, we came up with a plan that’s win-win for the execs (in our case the three partners) and the business. It started as a wild, crazy idea in 2008 when Andrew asked what our goals were for the company and ourselves.

We all wanted a better work-life balance. None of us wanted to commute to Philly or New York. We had a serious passion for travel. And so, the idea of the sabbatical was borne.

In 2010, Stan was the first to take advantage of the perk, which was not just to provide the partners with extended vacation, but also served as an opportunity for the other partners to discover where the business’s vulnerabilities were in Stan’s absence.

Stan and his then-15-year-old son headed for Nova Scotia, Stan driving his motorcycle and his son riding shotgun in his sidecar. As a result of his month-long absence, we realized we needed to hire a graphic designer (Hi Liesel) and that Stan needed to focus on creative direction and editorial.

Next up was Andrew, who cycled throughout Italy and toured the French Riviera in 2011. During his time off, we learned we need a bookkeeper and that Andrew really needed to focus on the company’s business plan while also growing the sales of the company.

This summer, it was my turn to turn off all-things Altitude. I had a great time, yes, but I also learned a lot.

I thought I’d be stressed out, but I slept like a baby, knowing that we had properly prepared and transitioned tasks over the two to three months prior to my departure and the world would not come to a screeching halt if I wasn’t in the office. Clients were notified; contingencies were in place. (And, I confess, Andrew had a copy of my itinerary …)

Because of this preparation, re-entry last month was a breeze, though taking a large block of time off isn’t for the faint of heart.

When I returned, I had a clean slate and all the day-to-day activities were humming along swimmingly. I never once thought I wouldn’t be missed or no longer needed (ok, once), but what the company needs is for me (and my two partners) to build a strong, sustainable business that will last long after we are gone.

Legacy plans must be made. New processes must be implemented that will allow us to continue to grow in a responsible, smart way. Employees must continued to be empowered and appreciated and grow in their professions and we – me, Andrew and Stan – have to continue to focus on our corporate culture while also delivering unparalleled client services.

We also collectively realized that where I was missed most during my absence was in the strategic planning realm – for clients as well as for ourselves. As a result, a new area of focus for me is to create and implement a scalable client engagement model.

In addition to this moment of clarity, I’ve been able to take some much-needed time off to recharge, which has resulted in fresh ideas and a stronger sense of faith in Team Altitude. Now, more than ever, I know that we will be able to continue to thrive and surmount any difficulty or challenge that lies ahead together and united.

Gwen Shields

As Altitude’s COO, Gwen Shields oversees client-facing systems and processes to improve service and retention, ensuring production operations run smoothly and effectively. Her exceptional problem-solving skills and technical knowledge allow Gwen to understand and guide Altitude’s core base of technology-focused clients.
Gwen earned her bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and worked in information systems and tech sales before becoming a part of Team Altitude in 2008.