When I was 5 and my dad and I were traveling on an interstate highway, I spotted a pasture that held Holstein cows and a pond. One of the cows had waded into the pond, deep enough that the water was above her legs and half of her body. My Dad recalls, “You squealed with delight at the sight. I looked to where you were pointing, and at first didn’t get it. Then I realized what had put you into orbit. What to me was not a surprising sight was to you a miracle. It occurred to me that it was good that after a while we pass on and make room for new generations of humans, for only the young could get such delight in the wonders and beauty of all the new things, all the first times, that they experienced. No been-there-done-that, in your response!” I approach each day looking forward to what I will learn, see or do.
We learn to start taking risks at a young age. Of course, with taking risks comes the fact that we fail sometimes. Every day at school I took a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (Creamy Jif + Welches Grape, of course), in my metal Roy Rogers lunch box. When making that sandwich, how many times do you think the bread fell to the floor? And how many times do you think it landed Jif-side down? Yep, you got it – about half the time. And that happens in business plenty of times – your peanut butter hits the floor and makes a mess. But you start again, and come up with new ideas to make that sandwich even tastier next time.
"Doing what needs to be done."
When I was 2 months old, my father took over the family business (selling gravestones). It was somewhat of a seasonal business – back then you didn’t bury people in the winter because the ground was frozen, and you’d have to wait until spring. So, during the winters he would drive school bus and also volunteer as a fireman. He did those jobs in the early years to pay the bills and to have insurance for his family. Later, he did it because he enjoyed being around people and loved high school sports. He drove the bus to every one of my and my brother’s football and basketball games. He never missed a single game. The lessons I took from him were focused on work ethic, self-reliance and an attitude that if you work hard and treat people right, no matter what happens today, tomorrow will take care of itself.
"Keeping your eye on the ball."
Playing basketball provided me the strongest life metaphor. The great thing about hoops, and life, is if you make a mistake, you have the opportunity to immediately go back down the other side of the court and do something about it – make a positive play. If you choose to put your head down or get negative or lose intensity, you decrease that chance to do something positive and turn the momentum around. The opposite is also important. If you score, and you choose to celebrate instead of staying focused and making the next play, you just decreased the chance of making something positive happen again.
"Doing it yourself."
When I was 9 years old, my family went to the shopping mall and I wandered into Foot Locker. I had my eye on these $120 Nike Air Bo Jackson shoes. The following day the school had a cross-country race, and I knew I’d win if I had those shoes. I begged my dad to buy them for me, but he told me if I wanted them I’d better get a job. Again, I was 9 years old. The next day during the cross-country meet, I was leading the entire race. Because my shoes were so old, and the laces were too long, I had to wrap the laces around the back of the shoe. As I raced down the hill toward the finish line my shoe fell off but was still tied around my ankle and tripped me. I ended up taking 3rd. The next summer I worked odd jobs and was able to buy the Bo Jackson shoes I wanted. It felt good being able to do that on my own, much better than if my dad had bought them for me. I worked every summer after that, selling night crawlers to the kids in the neighborhood, mowing lawns, working at the bowling alley, restaurants, valeting cars, and I haven’t stopped working since.
"Having no regrets."
The most impactful experience I had as a child was moving to Toronto at the end of my sophomore year of high school. There were pros and cons: I got a better perspective of the world beyond my sheltered life as an American high school kid. At the time, Quebec was pushing to become a sovereign nation and Canada opened its doors, encouraging Chinese citizens to come in – this was right before the Tiananmen Square massacre. I grew up fast. Had I stayed in the states, I would have likely married my high school sweetheart and never met my wife, Kristy. However, I would have likely received a scholarship as a lacrosse goalie if I had stayed in New Jersey. Sports are treated like an afterschool club in Canada, and my mom got weird looks from the players since she was the only parent yelling on the sidelines. Although it wasn’t always fun, the move added a lot to who I am, and I wouldn’t change it. No regrets.
It was a cold rainy fall day, my step-father surprised me by offering to drive me around one of my two paper routes. My step-dad, James Crane, is one of the great people I know. Not religious, but spiritual, not a saint, but selfless. As we rode around delivering papers we talked. “Jason,” he said, “you will have a lot of choices in your life, and they are yours to make. As you make those decisions remember, when you die the only thing left behind is the memory of you and your reputation.” The conversation went on and has affected my every decision since. Jimmy taught me not to judge, to be thankful for what I have and not be jealous for what I don’t have, “because there will always be someone with more than you, and that would just be a terrible way to live life.”
"Putting customers first."
From the time I can remember, my family owned a restaurant/dinner club in a nearby town. They would book live entertainment and attract customers who drove from an hour away in Cleveland. Growing up, whenever the restaurant had big events, all of the aunts, uncles and cousins would gather the Sunday before to help get things set up. We worked hard, but it was always fun. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to work there officially. At 16, I was “promoted” to hostess and sometimes helped in the office. I worked there all through high school and college. I think that was where I learned about the importance of the customer experience. Customers would wait an hour or more for a table because the food was great, and it was a fun experience to dine there or just hang out and enjoy the entertainment.
I grew up in Cincinnati, OH, Westport, CT, St. Charles IL, Evanston, IL and Lexington, KY. My dad was a salesperson for several companies and later an executive at a number of companies. We moved a lot, and I didn’t like it very much. My mom was the one who would make each move better, because she knew that I always dreaded it. Hopefully, what you see in me today is my ability to build relationships with all different types of people. Whenever we moved, I always had to find new friends. To me, it is easy to do, and this is why: They were never short-term friendships. I learned along the way to keep these relationships. My parents always had friends and colleagues at each stop along the way and to this day are still close to many of them. I have kept relationships from each one of these moves … pretty amazing.
I was fortunate to have some great friends in my childhood. We were a team: We played sports together, worked at odd jobs together, and even got into a little trouble together. We were a tight-knit team and were passionate about every one of our adventures. I learned a lot about the power of “teams:” What can be accomplished when individuals come together as one single unit with a single purpose. The Army was another lesson in discipline and teamwork. It was all about the team – how each small team contributed to the next. We lived as one, ran as one, ate as one, learned as one, competed as one, were rewarded as one, and sometimes suffered as one.
My memories of growing up are doing yard work, chores around the house, hanging out with my friends, playing sports, and I was always close with my family. When our friends were at the pool or out playing, we were working in the yard. Dad always said that he provided this great house and yard, and it is part of being a family to take care of it. I have to say that doing a lot of hands-on fixing up has made me a confident and capable person – I am quite handy! I think this taught me about work ethic and appreciating what I had.