This has been a very big year for me personally and professionally, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to share some things I’ve learned along the way. On December 19, 2016 at 9 p.m. (the time my mother calls me every year to “officially” wish me a happy birthday) I marked the occasion by accomplishing a goal I set 16 years earlier in Italy of doing 50 push ups, on my 50th birthday, something I could not do the night I set that goal.
So I started thinking, what have I learned in my first 50 years of life and 30 years as a professional hairdresser? I realized my successes were because I focused on three things, in addition to working really hard and a bit of luck too, and they were people, money and goals.
Focusing on these three things always gave me a “fair” but uneven edge over just about everyone around me. The cool thing is I have other friends who have used this formula too, to create success for themselves, it doesn’t make success easy, but if you follow the formulas it does create success.
Before money in life there are people, both figuratively and literally. From the time of our infancy, people around us that can care and support us in the most neutering ways allow us to grow literally stronger, faster, a point I shared in my TEDx Talk this year. Having the right people around you and the wrong people away, if not at least at arms length, gives you the opportunity to get better and recharge, instead of getting further run down. The way I honestly think is if the person is not making me better, they are probably making me worse and with only 84,600 seconds in a day, I honestly don’t have time to waste, do you?
I am lucky, I have been with my wife, Leah, for 25 years (5 dating + 20 married) and she, hands down, is the secret to our success. For me, Leah gives me a safe place, a place I can be me and honestly not worry about being the perfect me. She's someone who listens, is honest with me about me, and she isn't afraid to tell me when something sucks or is just too crazy or maybe even dangerous.
What I have realized recently is the people I have around me, my closest friends, mentors and colleagues, all seem to have stable personal lives too, either happily alone with a great personal network or the same with their partners.
Then I have always been smart enough to make sure the people around me made me better, and I usually did this by making sure they were more talented than me. This has always caused me personal challenges, worried that guests might not like their hair or the stylist I was working with doing the color wouldn't like it. But honestly, I have found out from many friends, they were also worried that they were not talented enough either, and I realized this is something many of the greatest names thought (and some still think)!
You know what, that's what keeps me trying to get better, surrounding myself with people and even information and ideas that challenge me to keep up. Remember, statistically, you are as successful as the five people you hang out with the most.
Money was not something I always had, I didn't start off dirt poor, but by choice I did move out of a perfectly good home to jump into life. I had the parachute of a great family, but at 19 I decided I would sleep in my car before I moved back home and I would never sleep there again, something my wife had me break after we were married, convincing me that sleeping there one night would not mean we were moving in.
I have had nights in my adult life where I didn't have food at home for three days because I didn't have the money, and I learned, I learned to save and I learned how to use money as a tool, early on. Rule 1 for me has always been, no debt. Rule number 2 was, not all debt is bad debt. These two rules separate the people who end up doing bad because of debt, or good because they have no debt and can create great financial outcomes because they no how to use good debt.
Most debt is bad, credit cards, high monthly car loans and monthly payment plans can financially kill people by a death of thousand percentages. I learned from my grandfather that if I can't pay for it right now in cash or from my savings, don't buy it yet, and with the exception of a house, I have always done this.
When we buy a car we save the money in the bank first and then we “buy” the car and if we can get 0% financing, we finance the car and put the rest of the money in a savings account, making money, that we pay it off from. So the money makes money before we use it.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from one of the best people in our industry and a very successful business person, Frank Gambuzza, salon owner and President of Intercoiffure for the US and Canada, an organization I was honored to join this year.
He told me when I opened my first salon, “there are only 100 pennies in ever dollar.” Unfortunately, with 80% of the salons in our industry that are losing money, it's because they are spending more than 100 pennies to make their dollars.
No matter when it was in my career, I always knew how much I wanted to make, how much I needed to live, and how much I made that day, that week, how much I made that month and what it was at the end of the year. This allowed me to set goals.
From 50 push ups, to getting married before I was 30 (as long as I had met the right person), to how much I want to make this coming year, I make almost everything a goal. If I want to get something, I set a goal first that I have to achieve before I get it.
My first goal as a hairdresser was to be better than Patti Blu, the best hairdresser at the time in East Brunswick, NJ, my second was to be like Tony Beckerman when I saw him on stage at the NYC International Beauty Show in 1987 on stage with Image International. Honestly, I am so far beyond my dreams, my goals and making sure I update them to help me get the balance I want.
This also means I know when to stop. Like at my first salon in Princeton, NJ, where after getting named in Allure as "One of the Best Colorists," I let my front desk coordinator know I only want to book $800 a day in 1995 and I was still going to work four days a week and stop booking me when we hit that, and then we create a wait list option.
Even now, I have stepped away from my previous positions by choice, and on top of some new exciting things that will be announced next year, I’m spending more time with my guests at our new salon and with my family snowboarding, rock climbing and even going to concerts, something some of my goals over the last 30 years didn’t include. Professionally, my whole career, I always knew where I was, where my goals were and I wanted to be in the predictable future, all I needed to do was make the right choices.
As I look back on my first 50 and my first three as a beauty professional, I don't think I was the predictable choice for where I am today, during my first 20. From early drug use, to nearly becoming an incarcerated juvenile delinquent, being removed from multiple schools for disruptive behavior before 7th grade, being bullied at school to the point that the school board was involved and a high school GPA that was around a 2, I don't think anyone would have written my ending of the first 50.
As the father of two amazing daughters and married to the secret to our success, my last 30 have been really good; 5 continents, 15+ countries, owned multiple profitable salons, taught with some of the best people, companies and events in our industry and this year spoke at a TEDx Event spreading the idea about the “Beauty Of Touch”, which was an amazing way to end the first 50.
I am excited to say, that’s just the beginning; as I have made some changes and will be moving in all new directions in 2017!!! Including, being back at some of the industries beauty shows including Cosmetologists Chicago’s Americas Beauty Show and The International Beauty Show in NYC with other shows to be announced. I look forward to seeing and having some good old-fashioned FaceTime together. That’s definitely one of the ways I like to spend my 84,600 seconds.
And, if you have a few to spare, here is my 2016 TEDx Talk, The Beauty Of Touch.