A Conversation with John Grifonetti On Staying Focused and Flexible

For the past 10 years, John Grifonetti has been a business and real estate investor. While his initial intention when he left his full-time job was to retire, his restless and creative business mind had other ideas. At the start of John Grifonetti’s career, he was a CPA and ran an online brokerage firm, acting […]

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John Grifonetti
John Grifonetti

For the past 10 years, John Grifonetti has been a business and real estate investor. While his initial intention when he left his full-time job was to retire, his restless and creative business mind had other ideas.

At the start of John Grifonetti’s career, he was a CPA and ran an online brokerage firm, acting as its president and COO. He went on to work as an interdealer broker that specialized in credit default swaps. About 10 years ago, he went into semi-retirement and has been investing ever since.

With his business knowledge, John Grifonetti works to invest in small businesses and personally helps them grow with his vast experience in understanding markets, innovating products, and bringing the best out of his staff. 

At this point in time, John Grifonetti’s diverse investment portfolio includes a sports apparel company, a car dealership, and various real estate projects. He is always looking for new business opportunities. He currently lives with his family in Old Tappan, New Jersey.

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

I’m in different industries. I don’t focus on just one right now.  There are different challenges every day that we have to address.  It’s not something specific to just the car industry or real estate.  There’s something new every day.  I have to be focused and very flexible at the same time.

What keeps you motivated?

I love the challenge of building something.  I actually think I’m very good at rebuilding a product or project that’s broken or messy.  The car dealership I invested in was in bad shape, and now we have it to an unbelievable point where we can now take it to a whole different level.  It’s taken us time, and of course these kinds of things always take time, but that’s what keeps me motivated, building and rebuilding projects.

How do you motivate others?

I’m a big believer in helping others find their talents and to extract from within what they’re really good at.  I push them to find what they need to do to be successful.  Some people may not really be good at sales, and I try to help them find a spot they’re really good at.  Maybe they’re better at an operations type of role.  Sometimes an operations person is more talented at sales, so I will give them an opportunity.  I like to help them find their niche that they’re really good at.

How has your company grown from its early days to now?

My apparel company literally grew from wanting to make a universal chin strap to put on regular wrestling head gear.  Then we were approached by a different high school and recreational coaches, and they said the problem they have is sourcing wrestling apparel.  We took that idea and added some technology around it and brought production into the United States – we don’t do anything overseas – so that has taken us to a whole different level.  We literally started from zero and our revenues pre-COVID was fantastic.  We’re just getting started. We’re relatively young.  That business is about seven years old, and we’re in a great spot to continue to grow.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

My dad has passed but he was probably my biggest role model.  We moved to the United States from Italy in 1970, my parents and my two older sisters and I.  I don’t even know if my father had $500 in his pocket.  My father put his head down and went to work.  He just did what he had to do.  He worked outside in construction.  He was an excavator.  In cold or hot temperatures, he was working, and he never complained.  His main goal was to provide for the family, and that to me was enormous influence.

How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?

I spend most of my time in my home office.  I don’t operate the businesses that I invest in, so that gives me a lot of flexibility.  My kids are older now so they don’t need me as much.  Because I invest in different businesses but don’t run them on a day-to-day basis, I have that flexibility to keep my work/life balance in good shape.

What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I think the biggest one is that I believe in people.  I give people all the opportunities that they deserve to be successful.  I stick behind them and try to help them.  I think one of the most important traits a good leader or a coach might have is to really support the individuals under them and try to extract the most talent out of them.  I tell everybody, I’m not the smartest the person.  I’m by far the dumbest person in the room most of the time, but I will support you as much as I can, and I want people to succeed.  It’s not about building a kingdom for me.  It’s really about just getting the job done and extracting talent out of people.

What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

In any of the businesses that I’ve invested in, I would tell people to do their homework.  Try to understand where all the risks are.  Just going into a business without understanding all the risks is probably not a smart idea.  Don’t spend years and years not doing something you’re passionate about, but just understand what the risks are before you get going.

What is your biggest accomplishment?

I think raising my family is my biggest accomplishment.  I have four kids. Like I tell everybody, I’m not building my children to be popular when they’re 12 years old, I’m building them to be the people they’re going to be when they’re 40 years old.  The person they become when they’re older is what matters.

Outside of work, what defines you as a person?

I play golf a lot.  I’m not good at it.  I don’t really have any hobbies per se.  I don’t build stuff, I’m not a woodworker.  My hobby has really been raising my kids.  I loved participating in their activities, whether being a coach or just going to their games or dance recitals.  Being a family man defines who I am outside of work.

Where do you see you and your company in five years?

In five years, I see us buying more dealerships.  I see us probably focusing on brands that are really moving towards hybrid model.  The reason I say that is we’re still a nation of convenience, so I don’t see Americans rushing to buy all electric cars right away.  Building a system that can take care of the needs of electric cars is still far away. I like hybrid models, because they use an engine that runs on gas that also powers the electric part of the car, so you don’t need a charging station.  It charges itself.

I do see myself in that same industry investing in ideas of how to make charging stations more available.  If you go up and down a major highway, there are not many locations with charging stations.  Current gas stops are not rushing to put in charging stations – I can see us buying and building locations focused on charging stations for electric vehicles it will be an interesting to see the electric charging stations develop over the next few years, both the speed of charging and the location development…  I see myself moving our car company in a very broad way within the car industry.

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