Volition is a powerful word. It’s having the power to make choices – decisions that will ultimately shape how we walk our destinies and what our legacies will look like. John Sapiente lives and breathes volition every day as he leads two manufacturing companies, and a powerful movement called Volition America, a clothing brand that donates part of its income to the Folds of Honor Foundation. In this episode, John shares the story of how Col. Dan Rooney, the founder of Folds of Honor, introduced him to the idea of Volition America and how is patriotism and dedication to service remains a source of inspiration for him. Tune in and learn how attitude drives possibly one of the most interesting business leaders anywhere and what his vision for the future is.
We are happy to have you here. We want to thank you for joining us yet again. We’re here knee-deep in season three carrying the light and we have a gentleman with us who carries the light in a lot of different manners. Please always remember to share this episode or tell all your friends that need a little attitude adjustment to follow us on Spotify. We were recognized as one of the top two-and-a-half show in the world by Listen Notes. Jason, awesome job on that. Thank you.
We’re also in line for our third Communicator Award for the Little Sisters of the Poor‘s episode. It’d be awesome to see a couple of 90-year-old nuns and us get a big old trophy. In this episode, we have somebody very special. I saw a story about what he did on The Today Show and then I started looking into this thing called Volition America. We have John Sapiente, the CEO of Volition America who has worked his way through entrepreneurial depths of brand building, partnership acquisition, and everything in between.
Prior to John’s patriotic awakening moment at the Folds of Honor Gala in 2013, John was the owner of two manufacturing companies, Elgin Die Mold, and Trident Manufacturing company. He is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Volition America. Upon attending that gala, John forged a relationship with Lieutenant Colonel Dan Rooney, who introduced John to the idea of this thing called Volition America.
Since then, John has procured partnerships with several top-tier brands like Puma, Cobra, Lizard Skin, Victus, Marucci, Revo, and Luminox, and that’s just to name a few. He’s got a whole bunch of different relationships that he’s forged while spending his impartial explanation of patriotism and donating portions of Volition America profits to aid service people and their families through the Folds of Honor Foundation.
This guy is an entrepreneur. He’s the leader of what is one of the coolest not-for-profits in America. There’s so much to learn as we dig in. Those of you who are leaders, entrepreneurs, who may own manufacturing companies, or running 501(c)(3)s, it’s time to get some attitude with the one and only John Sapiente. John, it’s great to have you on the show.
Thanks for having me. This is great.
You’re a busy guy. If you did less, we could have nailed that in 50 words, but it’s important people know who we’re talking to and what you do. Let’s start off by telling us a little bit about Volition America. I’d like to know what that is and what the mission is. Tell us what attitude it took for a successful entrepreneur, a guy that owns two manufacturing companies, and go, “I’ll go ahead and be a CEO.” Tell us about the mission and then tell us what attitude it took for you to say, “I’m going to go ahead and grab hold of this.”
The brand came about from Dan Rooney, the Founder of Folds of Honor. The idea behind Volition America is volition means the power of choice. The choices you make create the legacy of your life. The idea was Dan lived his whole life around attitude and choices and he believes that you choose to be happy, sad, love, or hate. He wanted to start a brand that empowered people to choose America and live a better life. Volition is clearly making choices and making better choices.
While we were doing that, we had a because behind it which is Folds of Honor, which is a not-for-profit, which we give 13% of our revenue back to Folds of Honor to support the fallen soldiers that gave us the freedom to have power choice. That’s the idea of the brand. It is Dan Rooney’s idea. He’s the brainchild behind this. I was the vehicle in which he approached me and asked if I would help start this because he didn’t have the money to do it and he couldn’t use what we call donor money from the charity to start a business. He gave me a mission and I was all in. I said, “Sure, I’ll go do that.” I didn’t know what I was walking into, but I said, “Sure.”
Let’s talk about Dan Rooney. When you look at being quite simply a leader, so many of us are faced with great prospects and great projects, but yet we try to take them ourselves instead of finding somebody like yourself to make this happen. Tell me a little bit more about Dan, what he does, and maybe what his attitude is or even a little bit of his background.
Dan is an incredible American. He started off as a PGA Golf pro and decided that he loved being a fighter pilot. He ended up with three tours of duty as a fighter pilot. When he flew home one night and was on a plane, it was like midnight. Everyone was getting off and they had a fallen soldier’s casket come off the plane. He saw what he calls the other side of war. He saw a three-year-old son watching his dad’s flag-draped coffin come off the plane. Dan decided, “I’m going to get that kid a scholarship.” That was several years ago.
He started Folds of Honor over his garage. Now, they’ve given $220 million away and 44,000 scholarships to the families of severely injured or fallen soldiers. Now they’re doing first responders too. How do I explain Dan? He is probably the most inspirational human being you’re ever going to be in your life. He lives a life of a mission which is to make the world a better place. He gives back. He used me as a vessel. He has pulled together tons of different people to drive this mission. He is an unbelievable patriot. He’s just incredible.
Is that the gentleman I saw on The Today Show?
Yes. We made a series of T-shirts, which is what you saw. They were Anthem tees and they were all around attitude and things you talked about. “Freedom isn’t free,” is one. That’s pretty standard. He has another big one, “Go before you’re ready.” He and I always joke, we are too stupid to know, but just go. “The body achieves what the mind believes.” “I believe I can, I will.” Those are all slogans and things that we empower at Volition through your attitude to try to make better choices, recognize and give back, and have the belief that you can accomplish things. We made these Anthem tees and sold them like crazy. We’ve restocked and have, “Freedom isn’t free,” one coming from Mother’s Day. They’re super inspirational. They’re basic and fun, but people are buying them up.
There are no more left. What’s the website we can go to?
I had to reorder, but the website is VolitionAmerica.com. We have all sorts of different clothing on there as well.
Those of you who are reading as most of the people do on our show, you want to go check these tees out. These would be awesome and great gifts. We’re coming into Memorial Day. I’m an Indianapolis We have the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor and tribute to our veterans and fallen soldiers on that day. Have you ever been to the Indy 500?
I’ve been once. It’s very fun.
Was that enough?
I’ll go back.
He was a soldier, is that correct?
He’s still active. He explains himself as Viper in Top Gun now. Now he’s an instructor. He had three tours of duty. He’s an incredible human being.
We appreciate you guys and we appreciate exposing the message because after hearing your opening, I’m like, “I’m ready to open the checkbook and get behind this thing.” You think about the visual of a three-year-old watching his dad come off of a plane. If that doesn’t hit you in your gut, I don’t know what does. You’re helping those families. How long have you been doing this? Tell us one thing that hit you right between your eyes like when you experienced the good and you’re doing it for the first time. I’d love to know that.
I’ll say this and I know I probably shouldn’t because people will look down at me a little bit, but for the first 45 years of my life, I took the military for granted. In 2013, I went to a Folds of Honor Charity Gala. They were auctioning off a round of golf with a famous master’s champion, Craig Stadler. I bought the round of golf with The Walrus because I wanted to play golf with The Walrus, not because I was into charity.
What I didn’t know was I was playing golf on Memorial Day in the Patriot Cup, which is a Fold of Honor Tournament. I spent the entire weekend with the military and their families on Memorial Day. I walked out of there like, “I can’t believe I’ve overlooked this my whole life.” I became an active Folds of Honor donor using money, time, and networking. That became my charity.
Your mom may get breast cancer or someone may get sick in your family, that becomes your thing. What resonated with me is we all live under this blanket of freedom and they’re not being taken care of. Everybody should rally around this. I became very passionate about it. With more passion, I became the better friends Dan and I became. Over the next few years, we were friends and I was a donor, and that was how I got involved.
That’s a damn good story. Let’s dig one more. That’s a good enough answer, but is there maybe one more story about, “There was this kid, and here’s what happened. Here’s what we did.”
In the tournament, I played with The Walrus. You play with the celebrity, a donor which was me, and then a military person. You have an active person in there that was injured or whatever that played with us. In your cart rides a recipient. I met one of the recipient families. I spent the day with a great kid. They give scholarships for all levels from kindergarten all the way through college and grad school. I got to meet the family. The wife had five kids. The father was gunned down in battle. On her darkest day, Folds of Honor came in and helped the family.
You can’t go to a Folds of Honor event and not walk out of there crying. It’s unbelievable when they get the recipients and the family and talk about the disaster left behind when they find out. Folds have always been there and rallied around them. I don’t have one story. It’s an incredible movement to meet the families and the kids and how much they benefit from getting taken care of. That’s the honor and legacy of what they’re trying to do. It’s to take care of these people’s families.
This has been going on for 25 years, correct?
It started in 2007.
Jason, I’m curious if you’ve heard of this, Helping Hands for Freedom. Give John a little commercial on what you did.
I was part of a documentary team. There were two of us. We followed two gentlemen across the United States from Atlantic City, New Jersey to San Francisco, California. It was all an effort to raise funds for a house of healing for Gold Star military families and veterans suffering from PTSD. That was a four-month journey and was just amazing. I forget what the rating system is called, but they rated high. They won an award for how well they spent their money or the percentage of what goes with the military families as opposed to what they keep for administrative things. It was an awesome experience. I know what you’re saying about hearing the stories of the Gold Star families, mothers, and fathers. It was so incredibly life-changing.
The Folds of Honor is the same thing. It’s a Gold Star charity. They give $0.91 on the dollar to the recipient.
That’s good. Let me ask you this, being an entrepreneur and running this, you’ve been the CEO for how long?
That’s a stint. What’s the attitude been for you? How is it different? You have an attitude, goals, and mission in running a business. You have an attitude, goals, and mission in running this Folds of Honor. Is there a difference and what is that?
For me, the difference is I have two stable businesses where you’re dealing with normal business things on a daily basis and then I decided to start with Dan. You’re a one-man band and you don’t know what you’re getting into until you start going forward. It’s been an attitude of continuing to forge ahead because you know you’re doing good and giving back despite all the obstacles and things as a startup that I’ve never had to deal with.
This business has been challenging because it’s in a totally different segment of the world that I’ve never had to deal with. The whole brand building, partnerships, and all that, that’s not anything I’ve ever been exposed to. It’s been a big learning thing and I’ve had to keep my head down and forge ahead, even though sometimes it’s like, “Why am I doing this? It’s hard.”
Let’s talk a little bit about what were the biggest obstacles and how did you overcome them. There are a lot of people probably reading this going, “I got this great idea, but I don’t know how to start. I don’t know how to brand it.” What I’m looking for is maybe a playbook or a little checksheet like, “If you were in my shoes right when I did this, here are 5 or 6 things that I would probably encourage you to do.”
First and foremost, the ideas that you don’t know anything about, the best thing that you can do is go into every meeting. I always tell people in every meeting, “I’m the dumbest guy in the room, so you’re going to have to explain it to me.” Part of the success of the brand is I’ve listened to and learned from people who do this every day. Ultimately, I validate that I agree.
I use a quote in my business. Just because they’re a doctor, accountant, or lawyer, it doesn’t mean they’re right. What I mean by that is it’s great information but you need to validate it. The other thing is, if you think starting a business, it’s going to be all downhill and great. You’re sadly mistaken. It’s super hard because you’re dealt a ton of unforeseen obstacles and you got to be strong enough to work around them and find alternate ways to do it.
What’s interesting about this brand was we started on one path and it was ultimately impossible to build it and I had to totally pivot 180 degrees. At the beginning of the show, I talked about Dan being a fighter pilot. Dan wanted to make a t-shirt, jeans, a belt buckle, and a hat. If you’re visualizing that, he visualized Tom Cruise in Top Gun. My mission is to go make that and let’s go sell it. If you think about jeans or you’ve been to a jeans store, there are long jeans or skinny jeans. My manufacturing hat is, “How am I making this? How am I inventorying this? I have no idea what I’m doing.”
I then met another gentleman who owned a big brand and he said, “I don’t make jeans. It’s hard.” He then started bragging to me about all the problems he had with design when he started. I realized I don’t know what I’m doing. I said, “Okay. I don’t know how to make clothes, so I’m going to find a partner.” That was my first pivot. The second pivot is we went into golf first because Folds of Honor is big in golf, PGA, and active with golf tournaments. The other thing I realized is that there are all sorts of golf stuff, clothes, hats, and golf clubs, but the other thing I realized is 80% of the sales in golf come from pro shops.
As I mentioned, I have a day job with two companies who are driving around with a bag of polos. At the end of the day, I had no manufacturing, no design, no distribution, and no time, but we had a great idea. We decided that what if we tried to license it? We went to Puma and a couple of different companies. We met the CEO of Puma North America and he fell in love with it. We signed a collaboration with them and licensed golf to them. Since 2017, Puma has been our partner and they made an exclusive clothing line for golf. We’ve added Cobra for equipment, but they’re our golf partners. They sell exclusively to the golf market. They proved the whole beta that people love it.
This is super cool. In 2018, we got a call. I don’t know if you guys know this guy, but his name’s Gary Woodland. Gary is a PGA professional. He had finished his Under Armour contract and called us. He asked if he could wear our stuff on tour while he was getting a contract. He ended up wearing it and being in the PGA finals with Tiger. Our sales went crazy. He came to us in 2019 after a couple of months and decided he wanted to sign with us. We signed with him and he won the US Open wearing Volition America clothing. Ever since then, there’s been no looking back.
That’s something to be said about karma and doing the right thing. I was sitting there going, “How do you get in to talk to the CEO of Puma and Cobra?”
It’s networking. Sometimes I joke, “If you’re too stupid to know you shouldn’t be asking for that,” but it’s a mindset that you’re going to get to them and it’s an attitude. I call it falling under a common assumption or failing because of a common assumption. They assume the answer is going to be no so just they don’t ask. I’m the opposite. The worse that happens is they say no and you go on to the next thing.
We had a couple of other guys involved. They got Dan in front of Bob and those two hit it off and it was great. Since then, for all the other partners we had, I’ve been using LinkedIn, RocketReach, cold calls, networking, and asking people to connect with me. Once we get the door open and they hear our story They fall in love with it because it opens up 75 million proud Americans that want to stand up and say, “This is what I stand for.”
Your product and your mission are tough to say no to. If you’re an American and you love freedom and have some sense of nationalism or patriotism, that’s a tough ask to say no to. We’ve heard your story, but I want to make sure because my goal all the time with our show is that this is a piece that you can put on your phone, copy, paste, send a link to whoever, and say, “If you want to know about us, read this. They did a nice job.” Is there anything else about the story that we should know or that we don’t know that you’d like to share?
The thing that’s important about the brand is first off, we’re trying to create something that you go in your closet that you’re proud of and put on, “This is what I stand for.” Patriotism is viewed as a right-leaning word and it’s a love of country. I’ve been very strong on basically making this a non-political brand. You can be far left and love your country and you can be far right and love your country. I tell people this all the time, “We’re not red and we’re not blue. We’re red, white, and blue.” It’s a unifier. We’re bringing people together with better choices. That’s what this brand is about.We're not red and we're not blue. We're red, white, and blue. Click To Tweet
The other thing that is interesting is there’s a white space for a tasteful brand that is not the cheesy flag shirt on the 4th of July. We’re trying to build a movement 365 days a year to celebrate the country in a tasteful cool way. As you see our clothes, they’re not loud proud big flag or big Eagle. It’s a tasteful brand and this is what we stand for. We want to give back to those that helped us.
Jason, if you can get their logo, let’s throw it up there because it’s somewhat understated. It’s easy and it’s never been the focus of anything.
If you look in the middle of that logo, that’s the folded flag for our fallen soldier. Our idea is we’re putting wings on and lifting it up and taking its place as it couldn’t go. It’s also the Folds of Honor logo. To make that triangle, there are 13 folds in a folded flag and that is why we give 13% back to Folds of Honor.
How cool. Now that’s the story. We got to it. There’s doubt about it.
We’re honored to be able to do this. It’s been fun and great learning. It’s fun to give back.
You gave us some pretty awesome numbers at the beginning. You’ve given away $220 million. How many people are in this movement? Do you have any metrics that you want to throw out so we know the impact?
On the golf side of it, Puma has now got Volition in 2,000 pro shops. We’re in Dick’s and PJ Superstore. As you guys are seeing on our website, we now have our own eCommerce platform, which is new. We’re bringing all the brands together in one location. The thing that’s so beneficial for a brand is now you’re bringing together these huge brands and they’re getting a free audience from the other brands.
We’re a multiplier for them where Puma all of a sudden is getting the Marucci audience or vice versa, or the Luminox. They’re getting unique storytelling. They get to give back and they’re getting free audiences. It’s a business benefit for them. It’s a goodwill thing for everybody. Many layers of this have been super successful and fun. It’s a little humbling for me to see it turning into a real brand. I had no business doing this and it’s super cool.
I saw that there’s a newsletter and a magazine. Is that true? How many subscribers are on that? How many people are in?
We don’t have a lot yet. We don’t have a magazine. We have a newsletter that goes out once a month. On the Volition side, we have about 10,000 but the beauty of that is when we send it out with our brand partners, it now reaches millions of people. I did this backward because I was busy with my time. Normally, you build a brand, get it going, and then do collaborations. I did collaborations because how do I get it to market with no time?
We built up this audience through our brand partners and now we have our own clothing line rolling out in July or August 2023 which will be an activewear type thing. Internally at Volition, we want to give you a uniform for life. The idea of the uniform for life is you go in your closet and put on something that means something to you. We’ll have our pillar, which is going to be outerwear and activewear.
For anything that we don’t offer, we’ll do a collaboration. If you want to go play golf, here you go. If you want to go play tennis, here’s a partner here. If you want to go play baseball or fish, we’ll partner with best-in-class brands and bring you best-in-class products. What they basically do is they take the greatest hits and they Volitionize them. Marucci’s got their CatX bat, which is best-in-class and they’ll dress it up and Volitionize. It’ll be super cool. It’s the same thing with Cobra drivers and clothes. It’s been fun to watch.
You fit into our Influencers and Innovators. We could have slid you right into the show’s season two. That’s so cool. I’d love to know what your definition of attitude is and who is your first attitude coach.
As for the attitude coach, I don’t know. My general attitude is no matter how hard things get, you got to stay positive and keep going through it. Depending on where you want to send in life, there are going to be obstacles. You got to keep getting up and dusting yourself off. It is what it is. It’s discipline and willingness to take negative feedback or body blows and be positive with it. Everything is a learning experience. It’s not a negative.No matter how hard things get, you need to stay positive and keep going through it. Click To Tweet
My dad was my mentor. Every problem is an opportunity. I listened to him and I did that. That’s probably my biggest thing with an attitude because when you own a business, there’s no day in manufacturing that has no problem. It’s like pulling weeds. Everyone has an opportunity to fix it and make it better. That’s what I would tell you.
What did your dad do?
He owned one of the businesses that I own now, which is Elgin Die Mold. My dad is the founder of the family business, which was a molding business that made automotive parts. I came to work for him about five years after my career started and we never looked back.
That’s funny. My dad sold steel parts for Steel Parts Corporation down in Tipton. He sold clutch plates all over the world. He said, “Glenn, a fraction of a 10th of a penny means an awful lot in my business.”
We sell pennies, nickels, and dimes at Elgin Die Mold.
All day long. We find sometimes the best attitude stories or the best influences of our guests not only come from mom and pop but from the grandparents. I’m curious if you were able to have a relationship with 1 of the 4 or all 4 of your grandparents. What was their story and what did you learn from them?
My grandparents are all immigrants. They all moved here from different places. My Italian grandfather came here as 1 of 13 kids. He basically held down three jobs. They struggled financially, but they instilled a work ethic in their kids. They yielded one entrepreneur and then one doctor. It was all about hard work. The whole family has been about hard work. My dad carried it down. I’ve instilled about work ethic in my kids. I’m a big believer that you can outwork people. You don’t have to be the smartest. I’m seeing it now in my kids that are growing up that they’re willing to put their heads down and do the work. Show me a kid with a passion to do the work and they’re going to be fine in life.You can outwork people. You don't have to be the smartest. Show me a kid with a passion to do the work and they're going to be fine in life. Click To Tweet
I coach football for many years. I love teenagers or the younger generation. I don’t think they’re all pieces of crap like a lot of people do. I’m sure you don’t allow that type in your life, but when you do look at the younger generation, what do you feel are their biggest attitude challenges that maybe they’re facing that you didn’t? I got kids and they’re all in their twenties now. What are your general thoughts on the younger generation and their attitude and what they may be facing that you didn’t have to?
I’ve had younger people work for me that do a good job, but then if you poke something negative at them, it’s like, “How can you say something negative to me after I’ve done all this good stuff?” It goes into everybody’s a winner and that trophy mentality. We ultimately raised everybody. They say the kids are the problem, but we raised them. That’s how they’re raised. It’s on us. It’s a little bit of the driving ahead in the work ethic that we had when we were young. It’s a little different. Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong. Who knows? They may invent stuff and make things and make the world a better place, but it’s different.
I talk to a lot of the kids that work for me in their twenties about going that extra hour of work and doing the extra things now while you can because later on, you’re going to have kids and responsibilities out of here. That’s what separates you from your peers. I’m a pretty simple guy. It always goes back to me at work and my work ethic. The same as you see on the football field. You see somebody that does a lot of work and another guy that’s super talented, he ends up winning the job. I mentor my kids in the same thing as, “You got to be willing to put in the 2, 3, or 4 extra hours and win. That’s how you’re going to do it.You need to be willing to put in the 2, 3, or 4 extra hours to win. That's how you're going to do it. Click To Tweet
That’s attitude booster number four. Do more than you’re paid for. A concept that our soldiers, teachers, and first responders understand. How many people do you employ?
I employ 180 people at the 2 manufacturing businesses.
I knew you were going to have 180 employees. There are people who are reading this that are employees and people that employ 180. There’s no doubt. You probably don’t think about it, but what’s it like to employ 180? Is turnover more so now than ever? Are you fighting this thing called “I can’t find anybody to work?”
I’ve had everything you could think of. It’s hard as an employer because you care a lot about people and when they don’t give it back, you get frustrated and it becomes separation, but overall, we’ve been blessed with some nice people that become family that work for us for a long time. There’s good and bad. If you talk to most business owners, they’ll tell you the most frustrating thing as a business owner is managing employees.
If you have 180, there are always 3 or 4 that are creating stress for you. Failure as a leader sometimes, the job is getting done, but you have a bad fit and it’s easy to live with a bad fit because it seems hard to go find somebody new. As I’m getting older, I’m learning that you should put the right people in the right spots or right jobs. As a young leader, I was all about accountability. I have a good process and hold people accountable. This is how you run a business.
As I got older, I talked about empowerment. If you empower people to do the job, it frees you up, but the problem is, if you hire people that don’t care, you can’t do that. I’m sure it’ll change, but my biggest thing now is to hire people that are engaged. If you hire people that care about your business as you care about it, you don’t have to manage them. They manage themselves and care more about the business than you do and it’s great. I don’t view myself as a boss. I view my job as helping them when they have problems and removing obstacles so they can do a good job.
Our culture has been all about finding people that fit Elgin Die Mold and Trident’s culture. COVID was a mess. We built a ventilator program that helped make parts for ventilators and catheters and I needed 90 people to run. I went through 770 people in 6 months because of all the unemployment opportunities and they can make more money going home. Now it’s softening but we still have people jumping all over the place. I don’t know where everybody went. I’d love somebody to educate me where all the people went.
They probably stopped working. That’s what a lot of them did and said, “We’re going to pare down our lives,” and they’ve become minimalists a lot of times.
It’s not all bad. It’s important to have a happy life too.
That begs the question, “Can I be happy not reaching my full potential as a person?” That leads to depression and mental illness. Everybody wonders why we have a mental illness spike in our society because there’s a vast majority of people since this paradigm of the pandemic. Studies have shown us that this mental illness thing is a result of a lack of expectation of one’s self. There’s nothing more damaging to the human psyche than looking in the mirror and knowing that you’re not fulfilling your destiny and becoming the best person that you can become. There’s a lot of that going on and then to try to get them out of that. Back to work is not easy.
You hit on it when you talked about creating a family in the business. We interviewed Mitzi Perdue from Perdue Chickens. They had thousands and thousands of employees. She talked about how Mr. Perdue literally flew everybody to their farm and fed them a home-cooked meal. I’m like, “How many people? 2,000 people?” She said, “They’re family.” If you think about that and you go, “It’s amazing.” I had another guy we were talking to from Aon. What’s coming down the pike for your people is a harmony officer. That’s what it’s about now, not about engagement.
I need one of those.
It’s all about harmony. That’s what Aon and all the consultants of the world are selling are harmony programs now, which is fantastic. As a leader, number one, what’s your best coping mechanism? You’ve had to step back and go, “This is my show here.” How do you handle the stress, the challenge, and maybe the backstabbing or not being appreciated? What do you do when things go bad? In times of great stress or great decision-making, what are you asking and telling yourself?
I’m fairly thick skin. The attitude towards me doesn’t bother me. The other thing I’ve learned over the years is when you have problems, you stress and stare at the ceiling. There’s a part of owning a business or leading a business that a lot of employees don’t see. I joke about the chair I’m sitting in. When I was young, I would come home and my dad would be up at 4:00 AM. His having his coffee and I always shook my head, “Why is was up?”
I went to visit him. He’s 84 now and he sleeps until 8:00 PM and I’m up at 4:00 AM. He looked at me and he goes, “It’s the chair.” That chair keeps me up at night because you have all sorts of problems and stress and things you worry about, but as I’ve gotten older, the next day it’s going to be okay. You’ll work your way through it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more mature. It’s a catastrophe and the world’s falling and it’s another part of the thing and you got to deal with it. That helped me a lot in working through it and figuring it out. At the end of the day, it’ll work itself out.
I’m not sure if you’ve read any of our things. One thing that we always like to do is this thing called knowledge through the decades. We want to walk you through your life and ask you about the attitude lessons that you had as you were growing up and where you eventually end up now. If you’re willing to play, there are no right or wrong answers.
It’s just a happy fun conversation to get inside your head more and help people understand who they are and how to help them bridge the gap from who they are to who they want to become and from where they are to where they want to go. There are several people and that’s our young business owners. When you took the helm of this company, has it grown as much as you thought it has? What are the 1 or 2 principles that you think helped that growth and bridge the gap from where you were to where you wanted to go?
I came into a successful business which is Elgin Die Mold in the mid-’90s. In 2001, we decided to go from an old DOS computer system to a new paperless system. Ultimately, we had a large amount of turnover in ‘01 while we were going live. I had to work 80 to 100 hours a week because nothing worked and we didn’t have enough people. It was probably the worst year of my life. I look back on that as probably one of the best things that ever happened to me because it allowed me to learn how the business ran.
Coming into a successful business and good systems, it’s hard to learn how everything works. That was one of the moments for me that made me learn how to run a business. Over the years, I’ve grown it by adding Trident. I bought Trident in 2010. That was an insolvent business that I inherited and enrolled into the business. Again, I keep coming back to work, but that 2001 was a big moment for me and I worked my way through it and that gave me the tools to be who I am now.
What’s scary is we have the cloud. DOS is antiquated and AI is coming. Are you getting ready to do another 2003 you think?
I am very interested in digital technology though because we’re seeing it in the manufacturing world. I see a tremendous modification of using robotics, automation, and AI-teaching processes that don’t work like self-correcting. Theoretically, if they do what it says it’s going to do, you could have the perfect manufacturing system that makes zero defects every day of the week through automation.
That would create a very profitable business.
It would. It’s scary to think though because what’s going to happen to all the labor that is used now? How are they going to get trained to handle the new technology? It’s a very interesting thing to watch and understand where the businesses are going, but theoretically, what we’re talking about is the United States may be the lowest-cost country in manufacturing in the next five years. It’s through AI, automation, self-learning, IoT, and all that stuff.
I don’t know if you watched the Elon Musk interview, but he said, “Ultimately, the real issue with AI is it’s going to become superior to human intellect and then where are we?”
I had this conversation last with my kids. Theoretically, you could lock your house at 11:00 and turn your cars off. It’s scary stuff.
They could lock you down. There’s no doubt. Let’s go do knowledge through the decades. We always ask our guests every ten years of their life, what the attitude lesson is. We always start with childbirth. How many kids do you have?
I have four.
I have four too. When you think about childbirth, either you being born or your kids being born, what do you think the attitude lesson is that you learned or that you felt through birth or the beginning of this thing we call life?
I had a lot of fun as a kid. My early decades were focused on fun and sports. I didn’t even know what work was and enjoying life and doing what I was supposed to do following rules and processes.
Specifically, about birth, when you saw those kids being born, was there an attitude lesson? Was there something in your head, in your mindset, or in your thought process that when you became a father either changed or heightened?
It’s the responsibility side of it that was heightened. It changed from being able to do what I wanted and whatever and now since I was an idiot, they’re not going to turn out very well.
That’s employee number 1 through 4 for you.
Luckily, my wife and I were both very aligned with the values that we stand for. That was good.
I want you to think about being ten years old which puts you in 4th or 5th grade. I’d love to know if you learned an attitude lesson when you were ten, whether it was from your parents, a teacher, a bully, a principal, or whatever it might have been. Do you remember being in 4th or 5th grade or a story that you said, “Here’s something I should have learned?”
I had a principal tell me, “Be cool, not cocky.” That stuck with me. I don’t why I remembered it, but I did and I say it to my kids now.
I love it. That’s very similar to something I say from the stage all the time is, “Do you know the difference between confidence and arrogance?” That’s called likability. How likable are you? That’s the same concept. I like it. At twenty, I’m guessing you went to college. I’d love to know where you went to college.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk from the University of Kansas.
Was there an attitude lesson when you were in Kansas when you turn 20 or 21 that you’re going, “Here’s an attitude lesson for me?”
The attitude lesson was when I was graduating. I looked at my college roommate and I’m like, “We could have probably worked a little harder.” He looked at me and said, “We could have had more fun.” That was the a-ha moment where I started saying, “I need to get a little focused here and work.”
Now you hit 30. Tell me what was going on in your life when you turned 30 and what was your attitude lesson there?
Right around there was my first kid and I was working. That’s when my life changed to being a parent and a dad. I took over the family business at 32. All of it was happening at the same time.
That’s a major shift and lots of responsibility.
Work-life balance became a thing.
Did you ever work anywhere else besides this company?
I worked for Cooper Industries for five years. I worked in their lighting group. I lived in Mississippi, Georgia, and then Chicago. I didn’t fit in Corporate America because I say what I think. They offered me an opportunity to start a business in Miami. I told my dad I was moving to Miami to start a business and he didn’t want me to move, so he talked to me into coming to work for him.
What was the worst job you ever had? Not that I know you well, but my guess is you probably worked at 15, 16, or 13.
I did. I used to detail cars. I started a flyer and I went to the golf clubs and told people while they played golf, I would detail their cars. Guys would drop their car off and I would detail and pick them up at the end of the round.
Did you have all the machines to detail the car or was it a hand detail?
It’s hand detail. The worst job that I did while I worked here is when we have a reject. My dad used to send me to go sort parts. I’d sit there for hours looking at thousands of parts and trying to filter them and throw the right one in the box. That was a good part and a bad part.
Do you have contacts or are your eyes completely fried at this point now?
They are now, but as a kid, they were good.
Let’s go to age 40. Tell me what you were doing and what happened at 40 in your life that might have said, “There’s an attitude there.”
It was 2010 when I bought Trident, so I was 41. Now, I got 4 kids and I got 2 businesses and that’s when the chaos started. I started getting busy being present for my kids’ lives and sports and all that stuff while the responsibilities of starting this one business that I bought and running the day-to-day business.
Mergers and acquisitions aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. We got a lot of people to read this. You’re not the only 40-year-old that’s like, “I got 2 businesses, 4 kids, and everybody is in the sport.” What was your litmus test or what was your guide to balance that?
I always joked that I was too dumb to know I shouldn’t be doing all this. Now, I got all this going on and I laugh like, “I don’t know how I did all this and now I’m balancing it.” Again, it goes back to common sense, work, and carving out and understanding what’s important. I’m in a business group that one of the things we do often is we try to align our values with what we do every day.
You write down, “Here are all the things that are important to me,” and then you look at it and look at what did I do now. A lot of people say, “These are the ten things that are important to me,” and then they go through their day or their week and they didn’t do anything that was important to them and did other stuff. I try to do that quite a bit just to stay balanced with how I carve out time to be home and for myself. Fitness is the biggest thing that suffers and squeezing that in.
I love you’re practical. I’m guessing you’re 50.
Yes, 53 in 2023.
We’re about the same age, so this will be your last one. I loved your practical answer. Being there for your kids and balancing time doesn’t have to be a calculus formula. GAPers as you’re reading this and I’m sure you caught it, stop reading right now and write down, “What are the ten things that I value most in my life?” and then go look at Outlook calendar or whatever calendar you’re operating on, and go, “Is this congruent with what’s going on?” That’s not hard and that’s good. Thanks for that. A few years ago, you had your 50th birthday. You are where you are. You’re the CEO of Volition. You got your two companies. What’s the attitude lesson of turning 50?
I am now trying to figure out how to enjoy what I’ve done. I am all in on work, but I’m trying to now get more balanced the other way, which is to have more free time to play a little bit. I’m working on building the businesses where they run without me on a daily basis to free me up to play and build Volition more. That’s my focus now over the next five years. I’d like to be chairman of both companies and not in the day-to-day grind of it.
That’s an admirable goal and one that many people share, including the host of this show.
You need to give your old roommate a call. The one you had too much fun with.
I still talk to him.
He can take it over. He can retire at 70 and you can be done at 60. John, you’ve been a delight. You’ve dropped a lot of bombs and great advice. There’s going to be so many people that are going to tune into this and check the boxes and go, “1) We want to help Volition America. 2) Folds of Honor.” Now that I see that logo and I understand it and it’s super powerful to me.
Our entrepreneurs and business owners and even our employees are going to gain from the time that we spent with you. We always love to give you one last thought to that person that’s walking on the beach, that’s driving in the car, that’s sitting there going, “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this life. I don’t know how I’m going to build this business. I don’t know how I’m going to bridge the gap from who I am to who I want to become.” Now is your time to talk to them on a one-on-one basis because this is why a lot of people come to this show. What is your message of hope for them? What’s your overall message if you were sitting down talking to them and giving them advice about keeping on? We’d love to know that.
We have a video on our website on the About page which is Volition. It is telling and empowering you what the power of volition is. If you ask Colonel Rooney, it’s the most powerful word in the English dictionary. It’s the power choice. Your life and your legacy will be written by those choices. That’s what the whole essence of volition is. That is one of the first things I did when we made this video is I played it for my kids. Making good choices and living a better life will lead you there. I took a lot of our work ethic and you can get there. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. You got to be willing to go try and have the right attitude.
One funny story. It’s every parent’s nightmare. I went into their room and my son had a tattoo card sitting on his desk. I’m like, “What the heck?” My one son, Ryan, looked at me and goes, “It wasn’t me. It was Connor.” He sold his brother out in ten seconds, which I thought was funny. He goes, “You’re not going to be mad, Dad.” I’m like, “Yes, I am going to be mad.”
I talked to Connor and he took the Volition logo and put it on his chest because it means so much to him. I didn’t love that he got a big tattoo on his chest, but I loved that the message of Volition and the meaning behind it empowered him to want to have it a reminder on his body every single day. That’s what the idea of this brand is.
It’s super cool and I love being on your show. Thank you for having me. Hopefully, everybody out there will check us out. If you want to make a donation to Folds of Honor, you can do it through our website. There’s a way of giving and we see that a lot where people sometimes log in and they buy something and then they support our mission by donating on top of it. On there, you can see the choices or give whatever you want. Folds of Honor is a great organization and we’re proud to be a partner with them.
I love it. The Italian Stallion, John Sapiente. He came and talked to us about the power of choice. Remember, you always have two ways to view anything and that’s either positive or negative. That’s what attitude is all about. That’s why we had John on the show. I hope you all enjoyed this episode. Thanks, John.