5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO
Every CEO had to be a CEO for the first time: This might sound a little convoluted, but I feel it’s good for new CEOs to hear. When you become a CEO there is immense pressure to be all-knowing as the leader of the company. But unlike other positions where you might find yourself in following a lateral move, nothing about being a CEO can be translated from a prior position or level. You have to find your own groove as a new CEO and realize that there are numerous ways to be successful as an individual and as an organization. There isn’t one RIGHT way to do it.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Zaccario, President and CEO of Stretch Zone — the leading practitioner-assisted stretching model in the U.S. Established in Miami Beach in 2004, Stretch Zone utilizes a patented strapping system to expertly position, stabilize and isolate muscles, to offer a full range of motion and improved quality of life for guests.
Under Zaccario’s leadership, Stretch Zone has seen exponential year-over-year growth, boasting over 112 locations in 22 states nationwide. As CEO, Zaccario leads all expansion efforts for the brand, including managing franchise efforts and partnership opportunities.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Leadership has always been a true passion of mine but one story that always resonates with me came from a conversation with an old mentor of mine. This individual was a well-respected leader across the board. All of his subordinates had only good things to say about him which is rare in any organization as there is typically always at least one naysayer in any group. One day, I sat down with him and bluntly began to tell him that I thought the world of him. I noticed that everyone around me felt the same way, so I simply asked him, “how do you do it?.” It was just something I have never witnessed before! His answer was “Tony, I live my life by a few mantra’s but one of the biggest ones is, “help others get to where they want to be in life and in return you will get to where you want to be in life.” I too have tried to live my life by that mantra since that day. This basic mindset really cemented my desire to pursue a career in leadership. I say leadership because my desire was never to be a CEO per se, but instead, it was to make a positive impact on as many lives as possible. I am fortunate to be with a company that does that naturally from the service we provide to clients. One of the things we always say at Stretch Zone is that we are in the business of changing lives, and we intend to do that one stretch at a time!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Speaking of mindset and perspective, I would never describe any situation as a “hard time,” I would say there were constant challenges throughout the journey. The inherent challenge I have faced has to do with people underestimating not only myself but also my team solely because of our young age and “lack of experience.” Regardless of the results created by myself over time, there were countless individuals that would try to hinder my development and growth simply because of my age. For the longest time, I would never bring up my age to anyone. If asked, I would answer honestly, of course, but for the most part, I would just let people assume my age which was almost always older!
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
First and foremost, it starts with a persistent and unwavering amount of positivity. I simply don’t allow negativity in my life. I always tell my team “I never have bad days but I do have character-building ones!” This again goes back to having the right perspective. I have always had an intrinsic drive to simply do better. My family comes from a very blue-collar background where work ethic was everything and I took pride in that. I always told myself that “hey, I may not be the smartest or most talented individual, but I can assure you I will outwork anyone.” So when you face adversity with a mindset like that you never shy away from it. Instead, you train your mind to view adversity and hard times as a challenge. When you reframe the situation, you actually get excited about the opportunity to work through the challenge. It really all comes down to maintaining the right perspective. And just like any muscle, when you work the muscle of the mind the stronger it gets. When something incredibly adverse comes your way (like COVID), you are well equipped to handle it and lead others through it.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are always great! There are many things to be grateful for no matter how challenging the times are. Grit and resilience are EVERYTHING to success. The path to mediocrity is easy and comfortable. To be successful in any field you must push yourself; you have to often learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Simply put it takes hard work, nothing comes to you without hard work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The one that first comes to mind is from when I first started working when I was responsible for a fleet of roughly 100 logging trucks. As any young professional, I was hyper-focused on proving myself and was definitely overconfident in my abilities. It was time to get new registrations for all the trucks (which isn’t as simple as a normal car) and I even oversimplified it my head…so when it came time to present my budget to the CEO and CFO, I gave them a ballpark number since I didn’t do the right thing and properly calculate it out. I just figured the math in my head to a basic formula and there we were. However, when it came time to write the check, I had completely overlooked a critical piece to the registration which ended up being a $25,000 mistake. I will never forget the sound of my legs shaking as I walked into the CEO’s office to explain that one… It was not funny at the time but I definitely laugh at it now because anyone who knows me knows that I like numbers to be precise and accurate. Data is a critical piece to the decision-making of any leader but for me, I believe all decisions should be data-driven.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Stretch Zone has big operational differentiators with our patented strapping system and nationally recognized training program, but what really sets us apart are the people behind the business. The staff, the franchisees, the practitioners at all of the locations; all of these people have one goal in mind which is to change the lives of others for the better. Workplace culture is such a big priority for our organization that it allows us to not only attract the best people around but it also helps us retain the best people in the industry. I am so grateful to have the team that we do.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
If you are doing what you love to do you should never “burn out.” I am a firm believer that life is too short to do something you don’t love to do, so if you don’t love it don’t do it. And for those that are just starting on their road to success… first and foremost work hard, stay positive and good things will happen. Secondly, just make sure you bring people on board that share your vision and never do business with bad people. If they don’t share your core values then they shouldn’t be involved in your organization.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I couldn’t agree more with this statement, and I am appreciative of all of those that have given me a helping hand along the way. Everyone that is just starting should understand that it’s okay to ask for help. No one expects you to know everything from the rip so why should you expect that of yourself. You also have to understand that you will make mistakes along the way and that is normal. Just try not to make the same mistake twice! I think it would be a disservice to pick just one person out of the multiple that helped me along this journey.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’d like to think so! I absolutely do my best to help someone (or the world) every single day. The smallest act of kindness goes a long way. Recently, we’ve been focusing on our efforts for GivZone — Stretch Zone’s Foundation that helps improve the lives of at-risk members of the community. As an organization, we help drive donations for critical non-profit groups around the U.S., which is incredibly fulfilling to me.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You can’t make everyone happy:When you begin leading a sizeable company or organization, you have to understand that your sole responsibility is to the company. You have an obligation to do what’s best for the company so all your decisions are made with that intent. So sometimes you are forced to make decisions that benefit the whole but might “hurt” an individual. Or you might make a decision that can cause short term pain for long term success.
- Criticism is part of the job:This aligns with the first one, but when you can’t make everyone happy you are always going to be criticized by someone or some group of people! And all you can do is your best and do what you think it right. If you know that’s the case then you have to learn to let this stuff roll off your shoulder.
- Plan your work and work your plan:Obviously, this is something I learned very quickly but many people who are initially finding success do so because they excel in problem solving. They are masters at reacting to a situation and fixing it. But you learn that the higher you go in an organization the more proactive you have to be. Vision is mandatory, so this is great advice for people that are climbing the ladder within their organization/company.
- Every CEO had to be a CEO for the first time: This might sound a little convoluted but I feel it’s good for new CEOs to hear. When you become a CEO there is immense pressure to be all-knowing as the leader of the company. But unlike other positions where you might find yourself in following a lateral move, nothing about being a CEO can be translated from a prior position or level. You have to find your own groove as a new CEO and realize that there are numerous ways to be successful as an individual and as an organization. There isn’t one RIGHT way to do it.
- Age is just a number: As I stated, for the longest time I was very self-conscious about my youth because I knew people would use it try and set me back. But quickly you realize that what really matters is the output of the individual and that’s on both ends of the spectrum. I know some amazing people that are 80+ who are twice as productive as 25+ colleagues and visa versa. So ultimately just be confident in who you are as a person irrespective of your age or background.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Getting up opportunities to educate and assist with the homeless getting jobs/back on their feet is something I could really support.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
LinkedIn is the best way to follow me! https://www.linkedin.com/in/tony-zaccario-5576b8133/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!