How did I get here? How am I the CEO of ReluTech in Peachtree Corners, Georgia? My life could have taken many turns, and I often marvel at some of the little things in life that have such huge and unpredictable consequences. It would be easy to just go back 5-6 years to the formation of ReluTech to see how this path, and the path of all our great ReluTech team members could have taken a different turn. But, in figuring out what truly got us here today, we have to go back much further, and we have to thank Meatloaf.

I recall one day in Sept 1980, during the beginning of my senior year at Fort Walton Beach High School. It was still very hot in the Florida Panhandle– nearly 90 degrees. Fortunately for me, wearing shorts, flip flops and tee shirts was appropriate attire at our school. I was out in the school parking lot one day and Ann Margaret Thompson (not her real name) was walking towards me smiling. She was the most beautiful girl at our school, perhaps in all of Florida. I couldn’t imagine someone more beautiful in the entire universe. Everything about her was perfect, her long blond hair, parted in the middle with wings down the sides like she was about to take flight. A perfect tan, crystal blue eyes, ruby red lips, and a figure that – well you get the idea. At first, I was surprised she was coming to me, but then why should I be?

I was 6’3, 220 pounds of chiseled muscle. My shirt was off, so I could showcase my six-pack abs, and I actually had a real six-pack of Budweiser in the backseat of my car. I was drinking a beer leaning against my brand-new Pontiac Turbo Trans Am – the one with the giant eagle painted on the hood. For some peculiar reason, I now sported a thick blond mustache, one that would have made Tom Selleck jealous.

Ann came to me, and now looked like Bo Derek in the movie 10, running on the beach – barefoot and beautiful. She jumped into my arms and music seemed to fill my body. I closed my eyes to kiss her when she started singing , “Stop, I gotta know right now – do you love me, will you love me forever.” I sang to her “Let me sleep on it, baby baby let sleep on it”. To my horror, the vision of Ann slowly morphed into the overweight, sweaty singer named Meatloaf. He was singing his hit – Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Sadly, I realized that Ann was all a dream. Back in the real world, Meatloaf and my new clock radio were urging me to get out of bed.

I reached over and hit the snooze button. It was 5:30 AM. Swim Practice started at 6:00 every morning and I had a 20-minute drive to get there – so there was no time to waste if I was going to make it. It was now decision time. A couple months before I was sure I was done with swimming, but today was the first practice, and it was time to commit, or roll back over, close my eyes and hope to re-summon the vision of Ann Margaret Thompson. I hit the snooze button; I knew I had 9 minutes until my alarm went off again. I didn’t know then, but those nine minutes would decide the rest of my life.

I lay in bed thinking about High School – I didn’t love school, but like many people those years for me were life changing. I was still in bed, 6 Minutes left.  

Far from being the 6’3 220 pound Adonis from that dream, I was a shy, rail thin kid, maybe 5’9” 120 lbs with asthma and glasses, that lived 20 miles away from my high school, therefore my social life was close to non-existent. Fortunately, my older sister was off to College. She was 5-11 when she was 12 years-old,  and built like a pro beach volleyball star. When I entered High School, she seemed an entire foot taller than me and she was in the popular crowd. While she hung out with the football stars, my best friend was the pimply faced Doug who seemed to live in the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons. My other friend, was the even nerdier Ricky who lived in a trailer park a few miles from me in Destin, and few people from my high school probably knew he existed – and that was his preference.

I rolled over again, 3 Minutes Left. And those 3 minutes would change my life forever.

I decided to go back to sleep. It was the right decision. Ann was waiting to kiss me in my dreams. I was too scrawny to be a great swimmer anyway, and the workouts were so physically demanding – I didn’t know if I wanted to do it another year. I had visited and loved the College of Charleston over the Summer, and they didn’t even have a swim team, so I told myself that another year of swimming would be a waste of time. Furthermore, if I quit swimming, I could start hanging out after school at the beach, and maybe even meet a real girl.

1 Minute left.   

“No – I’m not a quitter”,  I said to myself, and I rolled my skinny 120-pound body out of bed. I reached for my glasses which my friend Doug said were the  brand called “Girl Repellent”. They had this new technology that made them tint when the sun was out, and they covered half my face. I rubbed my chin, seeing if I could feel any hint of facial hair –  still nothing. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be another 5 years before I would need to shave. The fantasy of my thick mustache, Ann Margaret Thompson, my new Trans Am, and my six-pack was now a distant image. I threw on some shorts and t-shirt, and jumped into my mom’s old rusted out 1972 baby blue Ford Pinto, which was now embarrassingly my car.

I lived in Destin Florida, which at the time was a small fishing village. I popped in AC/DC’s new cassette, cranked up “Highway to Hell”, and puttered down the 2 – lane highway between Destin and Ft Walton at as fast as that little Pinto would go. I made it the pool just in time to see that not only was the girls team practicing at the same time, but that there were several new cute girls on the team. Things were looking up for me!

For the next several months, I woke up every morning like this, even on Saturdays, to drive to Fort Walton Beach for morning swim practice. Often, I had practice in the afternoon after school. On those days, I didn’t get home until around 6:00 at night, just in time for dinner. Somehow the routine of this started growing on me, and by Spring, I was swimming twice a day, every day. I was rapidly climbing in the Florida State rankings, and soon I started gaining some attention from college coaches. I have always been able to make quick decisions, so when Furman University offered me a scholarship, I immediately said “yes”. To be honest, I had never even heard of Furman, and certainly would not have gone there without my swimming scholarship.

I spent the next 4 years at Furman where I grew from a boy into a man. My Freshman year, I grew 5 inches, gained 40 pounds, and I lived and breathed swimming 24/7. I became the most valuable swimmer in the Southern Conference 3 out of 4 years, and was named Furman’s Athlete of the Year in 1985.

I continued swimming after college, dreaming of perhaps making the 1988 Olympic Team and it was during that time that I met Coach David Marsh, who was training an Olympic development team in Atlanta. I moved here, and met my future wife on a blind date. She was even more beautiful than Ann Margaret Thompson. I got an interview with a contact of David’s at a computer company called Sun Data. I ended up working there for 10 years, before founding my first company in 1998.

Looking back, obviously my life could have taken many different turns. During those 9 minutes in 1980,  while I lay in bed deciding if I would get up and swim, the decision to get out of bed may have been the turning point in my life. Sometimes success can be achieved just by showing up. Now after all these years, I can finally say “Thank You Meatloaf for helping me get out of bed”.

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Mark is the Founder and CEO of ReluTech. With many years of experience in the technology field, Mark is the leading force of ReluTech’s stride to change the future of the industry. Outside of the office, Mark enjoys swimming, playing ping pong, collecting comic books, and traveling with his family.

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