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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 8, 2016 2 years ago

Serve and delegate

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Peter Cuderman balances growing his public relations and social media firm with the demands of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Executive: Peter Cuderman, president of public relations and social media firm PR Zebra in Bonita Springs.

Diversion: U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Cuderman wanted to join the Marines while still a student at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, but he waited until this year to enlist at age 24.

“When I was in college I thought: I need to do this,” he says. Although he comes from a family with history in the military, Cuderman says he didn't think about joining until he reached college.

Business challenge: Cuderman enlisted with the Marines just as his newly formed firm, PR Zebra, was landing new clients such as Bruno Air Conditioning. “That was our first client,” Cuderman says. “Then we started getting other clients.” He explained to new clients that he would be leaving for the Marines basic training on Parris Island, S.C., and would be incommunicado for 13 weeks.

Good partner: Fortunately, Cuderman says his business partner, Zack Leiner, proved to be trustworthy. As an incentive to keep PR Zebra growing, he offered Leiner 15% of the stock of the company if he ran the company while Cuderman was gone to basic training, earning 5% each month.

Advanced planning: Cuderman left each client with a three-month action plan they could follow while he was gone to basic training. One of the company's five interns from FGCU became PR Zebra's sales manager and the other four became associates of the firm with more responsibilities to generate new business and help existing clients while he was gone.

Long weekends: Now, one weekend a month, Cuderman has to train at the Marine base in West Palm Beach. Training lasts two to four days and can happen on short notice.

Deployment: Cuderman is aware he might be called up to serve anytime in the next six years and be deployed for as long as six months to a year. In addition to conflicts, Marines are also called to help out in humanitarian disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes in foreign countries. PR Zebra is ready to manage without him, he says. “It's all about the team in place,” says Cuderman, who is seeking to hire another employee.

More planning: Cuderman says he is applying for the Marines' officer candidate school and hopes to become a judge advocate. He's already going to law school through a hybrid online program at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn. If he's accepted, Cuderman says he'll have to plan for being away for a longer period.

College first: Cuderman's parents urged him to go to college before joining the military. He graduated from FGCU at age 19 with a legal studies degree, but he felt he was too young to attend law school, so he got his M.B.A. in 2013 instead. A stint with J.P. Morgan wasn't satisfying. “I'm not OK doing something I'm not passionate about,” he says.

Tough training: Nothing prepared Cuderman for basic training, which he says was so tough it took him a month to readjust to civilian life after he returned. After he left for basic training, his brother and cousins made bets on how long it would take for him to drop out. His cousins gave him four weeks, his brother just three weeks. Cuderman had his own doubts. “I wasn't 100% sure I could make it through,” he smiles.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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