Good Begets Good

Carl DeSantis

What do Kim Kardashian, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett have in common with the gentleman I share Jimmy John sandwiches with every Monday and Wednesday?

I asked myself that question last week when the annual Forbes Billionaires List was released and my friend Carl DeSantis’ name appeared alongside a who’s who of international business icons.

Unlike many flamboyant titans on the list, Carl is a quiet and private person. You won’t catch him tweeting, showing off or bragging about his accomplishments which are many. His modesty is why we were so thrilled to see Forbes include Carl and do a feature story on him as well. We feel strongly that he deserves the recognition he works hard to avoid.

After all, very few business leaders have helped steered two companies to multi billion dollar valuations like my friend Carl.

He founded Rexall Sundown which became the world’s biggest vitamin company and he’s been a guiding force for Celsius which is rapidly becoming one of the hottest beverage brands in the world.

It’s a staggering achievement in a career that started modestly as a store manager for Walgreens.

Along the way, he has changed lives, nurtured careers, delighted investors in his companies and given generously to causes and organizations he believes in. In a word, he’s a mensch.

When we got the call from Forbes, those of us who work at his family office CDS International Holdings in Boca Raton, were more excited than Carl was. In fact, he wasn’t excited at all. As I mentioned, he doesn’t really like the attention but we were thrilled that such a prestigious publication was recognizing our friend and mentor. When we made contact with the editor of the project, he told us that not only did Carl make the list for his ownership stake in Celsius (NASDAQ: Celh) but they were interested in doing a feature on his one of a kind career.

With some gentle cajoling, we convinced him to do an interview and I promised to sit along side him for our phone call with Forbes. Joining us was Carl’s long time friend and assistant Jim Steinhauser who has been at Carl’s side for 34 years.

That’s how Carl rolls—loyalty, family, collaboration. He promotes a culture of input from everyone and lives by a simple credo: “good begets good.”

In short, he has been a blessing to so many lives.

Wealth and riches are not the true measure of a life well lived and while Carl certainly has both, he knows that the only scorecard that really matters is how we treat people and how we use our gifts to benefit the communities we touch. We can all attest that he lives up those ideals. He’s kind, gentle, compassionate and extremely generous. He’s also very unique.

Carl’s innate talent is his uncanny ability to discern whether a product will resonate in the hearts and minds of consumers. He can look at an idea or a brand and tell you with certainty whether it will succeed.

He believes the gift is innate or G-d given; refusing to take credit for a special ability or talent.

In the case of Celsius, he was a steadfast believer even when, especially when, the brand was left for dead a number of years ago after being delisted from NASDAQ and when product was shipped back off the shelves of stores nationwide.

He never stopped believing in Celsius and he never stopped putting his money behind his belief.

It was going to work, he insisted and because he believed we did too. All of us.

Carl doesn’t know it but he’s inspiring in his own unique way. He doesn’t give flowery speeches but he has a special way of letting you know he believes in you and the mission we are on—and that if we stay the course we will succeed.

That’s leadership. The ability to instill that belief in a team. There is nothing more powerful.

The story of Celsius is still being written but it’s a remarkable saga of resilience, hard work, belief, investment, trial and error and a miraculous breakthrough.

The brand that was born in a small warehouse like office in downtown Delray is now sold internationally and is valued at close to $4 billion.

There have been many key players in this ongoing story and I hope someday that the full story will be told because it contains many lessons for budding entrepreneurs.

But the steady thread has been my friend Carl.

We’ve been working side by side for years now on a variety of projects and he has taught me more than I can ever adequately describe.

I adore him.

I’m not alone. Like I said earlier, he has touched a lot of lives.

And at an age when many have long retired, he continues to make some noise. I love that about him.

For all the success he has experienced, he’s never grown complacent. He still wants to win—the right way through generosity, teamwork, love and concern for others.

He knows that success is never final and failure doesn’t have to be fatal. And now we know that too.

A few years back, on the occasion of Carl’s 80th birthday, a colleague and I produced a book on some of the lessons we have learned from out friend over the years. We gave it to Carl and his family which includes those of us who work for CDS, his family office.

When the Forbes piece hit last week, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at that book. Maybe we could flesh it out, freshen it up and publish it because it might help others.

We tried to capture the wisdom and essence of a very special man. Of course, we won’t be able to come close but even if we can distill a little of what we’ve learned it would be worth it.

My friend is that special.

Here’s the link to the Forbes article. It’s awesome. So is Carl.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/hanktucker/2021/04/07/florida-octogenarian-becomes-a-billionaire-after-investing-in-celsius-energy-drink/?fbclid=IwAR0b8Hfu8AvPRIPQE3zirA3ojVAuLtR0s-Cs1VgD9kEpu0SunEWGWeXi25A&sh=3c373f562b62

 

The Dangers of Ego & The Value of Good Stewards

You can still move the big rocks without breaking everything.

I’m fascinated by the strange tale of WeWork.

The seemingly innovative co-working company with the brilliant branding and patina of cool has imploded before our very eyes.

First, the company abandoned its long anticipated IPO, then it fired its high-flying CEO Adam Neumann, then it cost its largest investor Softbank billions of dollars and now comes the human fall-out with one-third of its employees—about 4,000 people—being laid off just in time for the holidays.

Merry Christmas.

Bah humbug.

It was only a short time ago that those people were working for the most publicized start-up in the world, a company once valued in the tens of billions for a boss who flew around the world in a $60 million jet and summoned the heads of stock exchanges to his home so they could audition for his business.

Now he’s gone– albeit with a platinum $1.7 billion parachute— a huge reward for an egomaniac who hurt a whole lot of people on his team by serving his ego and ambition over the bottom line.

It’s quite a tale, but sadly not an unfamiliar one.

We all know examples of people who crash into our lives, businesses and organizations armed with bravado, ego, bold ideas and often a whole lot of charisma.

Some actually have the goods and deliver. But many crash and burn and sadly take a slew of people with them.

A few years back, I was asked to talk to a wonderful group called Creative Mornings. The topic I was assigned was genius, a challenging topic to distill.

Since giving that talk, my feelings have evolved somewhat on the topic of genius.

While I still admire those who are blessed with genius, I have become more acutely aware of its darker side.

Mr. Neumann of WeWork is clearly a genius— on some level at least. He took an idea—co-working—and made it so cool that cities that were able to attract a WeWork saw it as validation that they were an “it” place.

Softbank poured billions into Neumann’s vision which went beyond co-working to a fully fleshed out lifestyle brand. And then it crashed, under a tsunami of hubris.

A similar fate happened to the founder of Uber, whose ride-sharing idea, swept the world but whose arrogance and over the top “bro” culture ultimately forced his dismissal.

Another good example of a supreme talent who wore out his welcome is Antonio Brown, who recently gave a pep talk to the Atlantic High School football team. I’ve been told the talk was great, but Mr. Brown went from being a top wide receiver making millions to unemployed after a series of bizarre incidents which ultimately led him to being bounced from the NFL. The descent was really fast.

When egomaniacs fail, they fail fast.

There are other examples too.

Mark Zuckerberg is undoubtedly a genius, but his creation Facebook, has suffered from issues as a result of privacy lapses, data breaches and the spread of misinformation.

His formidable technical genius is often undermined by a personality that is often unwilling to own issues of his own creation. Or maybe it’s the realization that even he is not smart enough to fix what’s dangerous about his own platform.

Regardless, while I remain a fan of genuine genius and appreciate its presence in art, song, design, business etc., I’ve come to appreciate the concept of stewardship and the importance of good stewards.

Sure there is a place for the game changers and disruptive mavericks. There is also a time when the dishes need to be shattered, but there is also a real need for people who are responsible and talented stewards.

A good steward knows they are in their position for a set period of time. They know that many have come before them and that many will follow them. They have respect for the past, seek to understand it and do their best to shape a brighter future knowing someday they will hand off to another leader.

They may not get the attention of the maverick change agent or genius, but they understand their job is to protect, enhance and position their organization for future success.

Sometimes I wonder whether that concept is lost on politicians.

So when a Senator blocks a Supreme Court pick or a President ignores Congress or attacks institutions are they unaware that they have now normalized those behaviors and therefore those “favors” will be returned? When we act as if we are the last people who will steer the ship, we risk sliding into a cycle of bad behaviors and reprisals. What gets lost in the cycle of rewarding friends and punishing enemies is the actual job of governing—or any sense of stewardship. Yes, someday you will pass the baton so please don’t break it in pieces.

I’ve seen this dynamic play out locally when newly elected leaders question past decisions without the benefit hindsight and context. What might have made sense in 1991 may not make sense in 2001 or in 2019. Or it just may— if you take the time to understand and look at the big picture.

None of this is to say we shouldn’t try and do big things. We need to move the big rocks, as we used to say in Delray.

But just make sure that when you move them you don’t crush what’s underneath. And always strive to keep your humility. Because, even if you are a genius, you don’t have all the answers.

Adam Neumann built a great brand at WeWork. But it crashed and burned and cost thousands of families and investors dearly. It crashed because the genius whiz kid thought he could do no wrong.

That’s a sure recipe for disaster whether you are a CEO or run the corner store.

A better mindset is to wake up a little scared and try and anticipate what can go wrong. A better way to lead is to try and protect the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bullies Make Lousy Leaders

People matter.

Leadership matters.

You can’t have sustained success if you don’t get the right people in the right seats on the bus.

It’s a simple concept, but oh so hard to make happen in the real world where personalities, egos, politics and styles so often clash. And these days it seems that compromise has become a dirty word and so we often end up in an endless cycle of gridlock.

At the heart of conflicts we can usually find a difficult personality—maybe an egomaniac or a narcissist or some other type of charmer.

Sometimes they are dolts and I’m guessing we can all think of a few. And sometimes they are brilliant visionaries or technicians who are wildly talented but fundamentally lacking in emotional intelligence—the most important kind.

What happens next is sadly predictable. Because of their talent or their ego, they are often able to ascend to great heights but they inevitably crash and burn because their deficiencies in dealing with other people eventually become a fatal flaw.

Unfortunately, they often leave a whole lot of damage in their wake.

I was thinking about this phenomena last week when I read a slew of stories about the rise and fall of We Work founder Adam Neumann who only days ago was riding high atop the world’s most valuable start-up only to see the value of his vision plummet and to have the very people who threw money at him take him out.

Why?
Because Mr. Neumann– clearly a genius on so many levels–flew too close to the sun. He talked about being president of the world (not making that up), engaged in questionable self-dealing with his own company and smoked marijuana on planes which annoyed pilots and unnerved investors.

And then it ended, before his company could launch its long awaited IPO. Oh and they lost billions in value along the way.

A similar fate befell the egotistical founder of Uber, countless politicians at all levels of government and to some extent Steve Jobs, the legendary Apple founder who was bounced from his own company before becoming the rare (somewhat) humbled egomaniac to come back and have a successful second act.

The problem is these types of personality types leave a ton of damage in their wake.

The key is to try and recognize these types and prevent them from getting into positions where they blow up people, cultures and institutions.

The challenge in stopping them is significant because their swagger, sense of entitlement and boundless self-confidence often lands them coveted positions. In America, we have this myth of the white knight that will show up and solve all of our problems. Yes, talented leaders can help to solve a host of issues, but (and this is a big but) nobody can do it alone.

You can’t run Uber or We Work by yourself, you can’t lead a city by yourself and you can’t lead a nation by yourself either.

You need a team of empowered people who work well together, trust each other, root for one another and believe passionately in the mission. And you need a leader who shares credit and is willing to take responsibility when the going gets rough and it always gets rough. There’s no such thing as an overnight success, you need troops and troops won’t follow an egomaniac, a bully or a narcissist forever.

The egotist may get far, but he or she won’t last. The behavior gets old. At first, it happens slowly, then all at once.

We Work’s Neumann was the charming rogue before his indulgences sunk him. Uber’s Travis Kalanick was the maverick who delighted in putting a thumb in your eye before his over the top “bro” culture saw him bounced from his creation and we’ve all seen politicians whose hubris (fatal arrogance) cost them elections and in some cases their freedom.

It never ends with a parade and when these beauties leave they are never remembered fondly.

The truth about real leaders is that they make you feel safe when they are there, they inspire people to do more, be more and they plant seeds that blossom long after they leave. They develop others who carry the mission further.

This is not an argument against disruption, we need innovators who can show us a better way. But too often disruption means destroying institutions that matter. We risk a lot when we start to pull threads without stopping to think why those threads were sewn in the first place.

It’s not a choice between disruption and stewardship—you can do both. You can innovate and make sure to take care of the organization you’ve been tasked to lead.

You can be a disruptive bully or a servant leader. But you can’t be both.

One style works and leads to transformational and positive change, the other style leads to failure. History never remembers the bullies with affection.