Happy Birthday Potomac!

Jon Wilkenfeld
March 14, 2024

Reflections on Potomac’s First 18 Years

Potomac turns 18 today. For Jewish people like me, the number 18 has special meaning. It stands for “life.” As Tevya sings in Fiddler on the Roof, Jews say “L’chaim!” which generally translated means, “to life.”

About Hebrew numerals

When I was in second grade, we learned Roman numerals in school, which was important if you wanted to read Super Bowl logos. My local team, the defending champion (at the time named) Washington Redskins, got crushed in Super Bowl XVIII to the hated (at the time) Los Angeles Raiders. All of us in the DC-area knew XVIII meant 18.

Ancient Hebrews also used letters to represent numbers. Each of the letters in the 22-character Hebrew alphabet represented a unique number. Rather than using five characters to represent 18, you only needed two.

The word chai (life) is made up of two letters: ח ( “chet” with a “kh” sound as in the guttural German pronunciation of “Bach”) is the 8th letter of the alphabet so = 8. And The letter י (pronounced “yood” like yellow) is the 10th letter of the alphabet so = 10. These two letters form the word chai and add up to 18.  This is why the number 18 is associated with life.

Depiction of the word chai, meaning Life (singular)
Table of Hebrew Numbers

L’Chaim – To Life and For Lives

While L’chaim generally means “To Life,” the “L-” sound up front is translated as both “to” and “for” in English. The word chaim is the plural of chai, so is more accurate as “lives,” not just one life. Put together, “For lives” is just as accurate as “to life.”

Some have claimed that l’chaim “expresses the idea that no one can live life alone. We all need someone else. There’s no point in toasting to life alone.” It’s not about one life – it’s for lives.

Reflecting on my life and Potomac’s lives

For the last 18 years, I have had a hard time separating my life from Potomac. I’ve admitted to my team on many occasions that I often take criticisms of Potomac as personal criticisms. When something goes wrong, I wonder what I could have done differently to have prevented it. On the external side (especially in the early years of the company) we worked hard to brand Potomac as being unique from “Jon’s company.” But personally, I felt like there was little separation between Jon’s life and Potomac’s life. It seemed like one life.   

But there is no point in toasting to life alone. We all need someone else. And to get to 18 years, I’ve had the benefit of working with many, many hard-working and dedicated people. We’ve had and currently have an incredible team. 

I am truly grateful for the more than 100 people who have worked for the company, whether as employees, independent contractors, or our third-party support partners. I am proud of the relationships built over the last 18 years. I have danced at our employees’ weddings, met their new babies, and wished others well as they left us for business school or other pursuits.  In several cases that included becoming our future clients.

I am especially appreciative of our senior team, who have worked tirelessly to embed our values of integrity, accountability, professionalism, and discretion into all that we do. Many of our team members have been with the company for more than 10 years. We would not be the company that we are today without their unwavering dedication.

The picture on the left below is from 2016 and of the 11 people pictured (besides me), 6 are still current team members—from left: Carla-Marie Ulerie, Adam Oakley, Meredith Swartz, Michael Young, Dan Koerner, and Graham Rich. I’m proud of that longevity.

Left: 2016 Fishing Trip with 7 current Potomac Team Members
Right: 2023 Team Picture (missing 5 current team members)

Reflecting on our clients’ lives

We’ve had the privilege of working with over 150 companies and thousands of people.  Over time, I’ve watched as our client leads have gained promotions and changed roles, taken on wider responsibilities, or in some cases, opted to downshift and/or retire.   

Over 18 years, you get to know some of the people at those clients very well.  We work hard to become an extension of our clients’ teams and, in some cases, like our co-workers, our clients become our friends.  I’ve heard stories about weddings and divorces, babies being born and kids going off to college, exciting vacations to far-away places, and debacle home renovations.  This past month, one of my earlier and most fun-loving clients passed away relatively suddenly. That one touched a nerve – wasn’t prepared to add funerals to this list.  

18 = Becoming an Adult

About 10 years ago, a client described her company as a “gangly teenager” that was going through the awkward phase that many teenagers do. I hadn’t really thought about companies maturing in a similar way to humans but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true:

Via Shutterstock – 1264493617

And now, we’re 18 and Potomac is supposed to be an adult. In some ways, I feel like I’ve been preparing for this day for a while, getting my child Potomac ready to go off to college. Especially over the last year, when we’ve pursued a project appropriately named Operation Evolution. Part of its focus is to make the business less dependent on me. This included changing my role to allow the company the space it needs to grow and mature. And give me time to write these types of articles. 😊

Meanwhile, our senior team has stepped up and taken on additional responsibilities –ranging from Finance to HR to Business Development. The transition has been hard at times, but we are evolving and making progress.

Evolution is necessary to sustain life (and business). There will be more change to come as we work through new structures, processes, and approaches to remain a sustainable, long-term business.  We are committed to maintaining the level of excellence and teamwork that has marked the first 18 years of our life.

I personally look forward to also evolving my role back to where it started. Completing the circle of life, if you will.  In the months ahead, I am hoping to spend more time working directly with our clients.  I love wrestling through their most complicated issues, working together to make our industry more ethical.  And ultimately safer for the lives of patients.

In closing, I pledge to continue to work to make a difference in the lives of our team members and our clients. We will continue to be a great company that people want to work for and work with for the foreseeable future.

L’chaim. For lives.

To receive email notifications when new Currents arrive, click here