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article imageBusiness executive Steve Mariotti talks new book and future plans Special

By Markos Papadatos     Jun 26, 2019 in Business
Business executive, entrepreneur and author Steve Mariotti chatted with Digital Journal about his new book "Goodbye Homeboy: How My Students Drove Me Crazy and Inspired a Movement."
Mariotti co-authored the book with Debra Devi, and it comes out on August 6, 2019. He shared that when he started teaching his students about small business, he drew upon his own experiences on a daily basis. "I was fortunate to have had a wonderful childhood in Flint that was filled with small business learning. My friend Gary Voight and I founded nine small businesses before we finished school," he said.
"When we were 10, it was a paper route and I remember crying as we delivered the papers reporting that Kennedy had been assassinated. Later, we launched a bicycle repair service and subcontracted our work to a lawn-mowing company. By far our most successful business was selling golf balls that had been lost in the Flint River. Even then, we subcontracted to Golf Ball Charlie who fished the balls out of the incredibly-polluted river--protected from head to toe, of course," he said.
Mariotti continued, "Gary and I would wait on the banks of the river while Charlie searched the mud and water with a metal clamp. Fettering the golf balls out of the water wasn't easy and afterward, Charlie would come over to us and try to sell his golf balls for 30 cents a piece. Gary and I would go silent since we had learned the power of stillness in negotiation."
"Soon, he would offer the balls for 25 cents each and we would bargain him down further. Then we would turn around and sell them for four times that. This taught me a powerful lesson and one that I shared with all of my students: buy low, sell high, and keep good records," he added.
"Flint taught me another important lesson in business: don't compete," he said. "In its 100-year history, the town was home to hundreds of successful entrepreneurs. Few were as famous as Billy Durant, who launched his GM empire there in 1909. Billy often told aspiring businesspeople two things: first, be a self-starter and if you don't have one, get one; and second, find out what everyone else is doing, and then do something different. This second tip led GM to take the lead over Ford when they began offering more than just black cars."
"Some of the most important lessons in business are basic values and principles," he said. "The Golden Rule is a powerful one: always treat others as you would have them treat you. Listen to people, especially your customers. Focus on what people are telling you, not just on your own thoughts."
"Finally, planning is critical," he admitted. "Back in Flint, before Gary and I started anything, we would write out a plan and drill each other on the questions and risks it raised. What was the unit of sale that we were selling? Why would the customer buy it? What need is it fulfilling? Was it the right price? How would we sell it and market it?"
"Gary would even do the projected income and expenses out for a month and once we got started we would do an end-of-day inventory and accounting. As my wrestling coach would say, 'make the plan and then work the plan'," he added.
Over the years, he noted that he has kept in touch with his old students. "I have had so many wonderful experiences and made so many incredible friends. It is more than I could have ever imagined. I mean, this was a tiny program I started in a Bronx classroom back in '87. At its peak, it was in 17 countries, reaching from China to Ireland to South Africa to Saudi Arabia, and in between," he said.
"We have over a million graduates," he said. "I have kept in touch with thousands of students and I am so proud of all of them. Of those, at least 15 have become close friends. I am 65 and they're in their 30s and 40s."
"Two of my former students live near me and have become close friends: Michael Simmons and James McNeal," he said. "They are both successful entrepreneurs: Michael in online education and James in extreme sports."
He continued, "Robert Reffkin is another NFTE graduate. He founded an innovative real estate company called Compass, which I am told is now worth a couple of billion dollars. I remember when he was about 20 years old and it was just obvious to me that he would be successful in whatever he did. He was a wonderful person with strong values, and he is exactly the same today. That is one of the things that I am most proud of and grateful for--the opportunity to teach values and watch young people blossom."
He revealed that there are three additional projects that he is very focused on at the moment and he works on them daily. "The first is a documentary film called The Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit that we've been working on for five years and are at least a year out from finishing. The film looks at the role of the entrepreneurial mindset in survival amid trauma and tragedy," he said.
"We share the stories of business people who have lived through war, genocide, life-threatening disease, rape, torture. We also ask how entrepreneurs might help design policy to prevent conflict or aide in mass recovery. As far as I know, no one has worked with these issues before; you never read about the small business owner in histories of genocide or war," he said.
Mariotti continued, "I was just at the Cannes Film Festival where I got some great feedback on our film's trailer. It was profiled on two journal covers just because these questions were so powerful. My team and I are also working on a manual and video series with an in-depth profile of each entrepreneur who defines for the audience what made them successful."
"These tools are also accompanied by a trade book of the same name: The Triumph of the Entrepreneurial Spirit, to be published by BenBella Books. Our hope is that these tools can be useful in almost any class from economics to political economy to leadership and entrepreneurship," he said.
Mariotti shared that his other project is "writing a book on how to start a nonprofit." "There are more people over the age of 65 than ever before--and they tend to be healthier and better educated than earlier generations. With so many of them retiring or phasing out of their current careers, I think they hold a huge, untapped potential for the improvement of local communities. This book is intended to provide a practical guide so that they can start projects and organizations that begin to solve local problems," he said.
Goodbye Homeboy: How My Students Drove Me Crazy and Inspired a Movement is available on Amazon.
To learn more about business executive Steve Mariotti, check out his official website.
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