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“Don’t try to be everything to everybody”, Gino Colangelo and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Treat one’s employees with the greatest consideration. Think twice, then think again and again, before firing a problem employee. Figure out how to put that employee in a position where they can use their talents to benefit the company rather than give up on the employee. Everybody has value; sometimes it takes work to find […]

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Treat one’s employees with the greatest consideration. Think twice, then think again and again, before firing a problem employee. Figure out how to put that employee in a position where they can use their talents to benefit the company rather than give up on the employee. Everybody has value; sometimes it takes work to find the best fit for that talent. On the other hand, when it’s time for an employee to move on to pursue their personal growth, know how to let go in a positive and constructive way.


As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewingGino Colangelo.

Gino founded Colangelo & Partners in 2006 together after working 10 years for Dentsu Communications, the public relations agency of the Tokyo-based advertising giant, Dentsu Inc. During this period, Gino won business, and conceived and implemented communication strategies for high value clients such as Siemens Corporation, Olympus, Japan Airlines, Finmeccanica, Suntory, Winebow, Mionetto and others.

Before joining Dentsu, Gino was co-founder of a chain of eight retail stores in New Jersey, an industry in which he worked for 10 years. This retail experience — unique in the world of public relations — has given him invaluable knowledge of the consumer and how he thinks when purchasing at the Point of Sale.

Before diving into the world of retail, Gino spent 30 months in Japan to pursue his first passion: writing. There he worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency and as a freelance journalist for American and Japanese publications. This experience led him to Dentsu, after a ten-year deviation in the retail business.

While working for Dentsu, Gino identified new opportunities in the field of wine and spirits marketing, a sector for which he had an affinity, which led him to found Colangelo & Partners, an agency 100% focused on his ‘passions’. At Colangelo & Partners, Gino has conceived and implemented integrated communication campaigns for institutional clients and sellers such as Vinitaly, ViniPortugal, Wines from Spain, Wines of South Africa, Asiago Cheese, Grana Padano, Sagrantino, Vina Croatia, Partida Tequila, Frescobaldi, Arnaldo Caprai and many others . Colangelo & Partners is now the leading fine wine and spirits agency in the United States with no significant #2 competitor.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

I was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn into a large and loud Italian-American family, the 4th of 5 children. Growing up with 3 older brothers, I’ve always had a problem with authority, people telling me what to do. My first job was a paper route at 9 years old (I had my brother sign up since I was too young), a pretty independent gig. I started my first business at 14, cutting lawns and doing landscaping and home repair. My friends worked at MacDonald’s, making minimum wage and paying withholding taxes. I got paid cash and set my own prices.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My father had an iron will, unwavering principles and a tremendous work ethic. From him, I learned the redemptive value of hard work. He was also fearless, unafraid of a challenge. I also had several uncles who started their own businesses. I saw the benefits of working for yourself (monetary and otherwise) and I was never afraid of the responsibility of making decisions that affected my own economic well-being as well as my partners’ and employees’ success.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was a teenager, I bid a price on a house painting job based on the job requirement of two coats of paint. The owner of the house insisted only one coat was needed and asked me to lower the price. I lowered the price, did one coat, and the job came out terrible. I refused to do the 2nd coat of paint without additional pay. The owner conveniently forgot that he insisted only one coat was needed. I wound up getting paid (after some interesting ‘negotiations’; i.e. ringing his doorbell on a Sunday morning at 6:00 AM with some rather large friends) but I resolved never to compromise the quality of the work for a reduced price again.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Know what you’re good at and focus on it. Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Guard your reputation zealously, which means always delivering on your promises. Confront mistakes rather than try to hide from them. It’s very disarming to a client when you proactively address a problem rather than wait and hope the client doesn’t notice or let’s it slide..

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The books that influenced me were all great literature: Moby Dick (my favorite book ever), The Sound and the Fury (and other William Faulkner novels), King Lear and many more. I was a literature major; reading has always been one of my great passions. I can’t honestly say I’ve read many business books. The past 12 years or so, I’ve read a lot about Buddhism, which has had a big effect on my life.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

‘Do what you say you’re going to do.’ It sounds simple, even trite, but it’s amazing how many of your competitors in whatever line of work you’re in don’t and won’t abide by this basic principle. I think it’s my biggest competitive edge in business besides being a life principle that was drilled into me by my father.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

While at Densu, I ran the PR for the national Siemens high school Math, Science and Technology competition. Seeing the brilliant work of high school kids was inspiring and humbling. At Colangelo & Partners, we have helped build the Slow Wine (part of Slow Food) movement in the US. When wine makers are mindful of how they grow grapes, treat the land and make wine, it flows nicely to wine drinkers who can appreciate the wine for what it is — a beautiful, agricultural product with great history and story behind it.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?

  • Prepare thoroughly but don’t over-prepare — don’t try to memorize presentation language by rote. Trust that you will deliver your messages while reading your audience. If you try to memorize everything you want to say, you’ll come off as stiff and not in tune with your audience.
  • Expand your competency around the edges but always have a frame of reference based on experience. You can’t fake expertise or experience and you can’t be everything to everybody. Don’t put yourself in situations that don’t suit you.
  • Run your business conservatively from a financial viewpoint. If you have undo pressure to close a deal just for the short-term profit, the potential client will sense it and be turned off. Don’t have your hand in somebody’s pocket before you’ve even started the job.

Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

  • I never let a moment get too big because I always keep ‘success’ in perspective.
  • I write — with a pen! — bullet point notes for key points I want to make sure to cover. Writing for me is tactile; it’s a mnemonic device.
  • Rather than overthink, I like to empty my mind just before a big presentation, allowing my key points plenty of space.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

I practice breathing and meditation regularly. I started reading extensively about Buddhism after being diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma (an incurable, but treatable, cancer of the bone marrow) 11 years ago. Focus on breathing is very calming and helps me keep things in perspective. In Buddhism, every moment is equal to another. No moment is ever ‘too big’ — or too small.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

Clearing my mind of too many thoughts and too much data, not cramming every thought into a particular order. Trusting myself to grab whatever I need when I need it. If I miss something, let it go for the moment and file it for a follow-up call or email.

We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Don’t dwell on losses. When we don’t win a piece of business, I look to learn why not then move on without regret.

Be forgiving — but don’t forget. Employees aren’t perfect but they have to learn from mistakes and grow.

Tell your team members — and your clients — the truth. If they know you have their best interests in mind, they’ll accept hearing things that could be painful otherwise.

What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

Speak good habits out loud. Write things down. Writing is a way of learning and remembering.

As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

As Thoreau said almost 200 years ago (and it applies now more than ever): Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. Focusing on the moment at hand is much harder than it sounds but, like anything else, practice and repetition make it easier and habit-forming. For me, for example, kayak fishing is a great way to stay in the moment. I have to be aware of tides, currents, winds, my fishing lines — I have no time to let my mind bounce chaotically from one random thought to another. Hiking is another, different kind of activity, which I use as walking meditation. When hiking, I focus on my breathing, on the beauty of the surrounding — or making sure I’m on the right trail!

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Treat one’s employees with the greatest consideration. Think twice, then think again and again, before firing a problem employee. Figure out how to put that employee in a position where they can use their talents to benefit the company rather than give up on the employee. Everybody has value; sometimes it takes work to find the best fit for that talent. On the other hand, when it’s time for an employee to move on to pursue their personal growth, know how to let go in a positive and constructive way.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

The two names that come to mind are two people who would never consent to a breakfast: Bob Dylan and Larry David. I love their idiosyncrasies and their individualism. Neither seems to care what the world thinks of them but, at the same time, they both crave approval. They’re eminently human.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The usual: Instagram, company website and blog (www.colangelopr.com), LinkedIn.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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