“How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents”, with Steve Gianoutsos & Dr. Ely Weinschneider

I feel like I am nailing being a parent when there’s laughter. Nothing makes me happier than when they are laughing and joking, either together siblings or engaging with me. Sometimes they take playful jabs at me and while we are cracking up, I think about how happy I am that whatever I did to […]

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I feel like I am nailing being a parent when there’s laughter. Nothing makes me happier than when they are laughing and joking, either together siblings or engaging with me. Sometimes they take playful jabs at me and while we are cracking up, I think about how happy I am that whatever I did to get here, I have kids who want to be together with me and just laugh. Love, support, laughter- there is a lot of ways to be a good parent but that’s what feels like success to me.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Steve Gianoutsos, the founder and CEO of Mojo Coffee. What started in 2003 as a boutique roastery café in Wellington, Mojo Coffee is now New Zealand’s largest independent coffee retailer and boasts over 42 locations globally. A recent expansion to North America led Steve, his wife Julie and their 3 children to move to Chicago, Illinois where they spend their time exploring the city and, of course, roasting coffee.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in the hospitality industry; one of my first memories was standing on a Coca Cola box in order to see customers over the counter in my parent’s shop. Family life revolved around the business. My siblings and I headed right there after school; holidays were spent at the shop as a family as well. It was hard work but lots of fun and taught us that working and having a business wasn’t just a way of making an income- it was a part of our family and an extension of our family values. This really influenced how I formed Mojo Coffee. It’s an extension of the values and the culture I want to create with the teams in our cafes and within our communities. And the business remains a family affair- my father is still roasting coffee for Mojo every day at 6:15am at The Roastery in Wellington and my sister Jean makes all of the aprons our baristas wear.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

Similar to my experience growing up, growing Mojo internationally is about growth for my family as well as the company. We are on an adventure. I’m proud of how Mojo has grown in New Zealand and making the decision to not just expand in North America but to move as a family to Chicago was based on our desire to seek out new opportunities, new experiences. My dad is a good example- he was at the point of retirement when he started working for Mojo. He had sold his business but instead of retiring, he learned how to roast coffee and developed a brand-new passion. He wasn’t afraid to learn something new, to take on a new experience and basically loved it so much that within 2 weeks, he was working more than full-time for us. Seeing his personal growth in the last decade taught me that it’s never too late to try something new or take a chance and that’s been a big factor in bringing Mojo to a new continent.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

I try to be an early riser and get a swim in around 5am so I can get to the shops as quickly as possible. Launching Mojo in Chicago is a brand-new endeavor — new market, new city, new country — so it’s really like we’re starting again. I spent my days building the business: looking at new sites, developing business cases, training the team, roasting coffee. And then, depending on the time of year, New Zealand wakes up between 12 and 2pm Chicago-time and then my day is split between to the two continents and supporting the business there. My kids are teenagers and as such, pretty self-sufficient and busy with their schooling. That said, we sit down to dinner every night and that time together is essential.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

You risk being replaced by a device or the influence of other people. If I didn’t spend time with my children, I wouldn’t be able to share my beliefs or values; they might think that good work ethic is working too long or too hard and having no family time which is the opposite of what I believe and am trying to create within my family and my company. My kids are older, and the reality is that sometimes they don’t have time for me because of homework or their social engagements but getting in quality time really, really matters and I take advantage of it every chance I get. Like I said, we eat dinner together every night and while of course it’s super valuable time together but it’s also funny. The older they get, the funnier they are because they have so much to say. If we didn’t insist devices getting set down and that this time can be counted on, I would miss it. I would miss them.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

The thing I tell soon-to-be parents is that the moment your first child is born your life has changed. More so than you ever imagined. The realization that life isn’t about you anymore hits you like a ton of bricks. Every selfish thought as a 20, 30 or 40-something bloke is out the window. From now on, life is about your children and everything you do, every decision, every move you make, everything is about them. I tell them to enjoy every moment of it and spending time with your children is how that happens. Being present and being together, it’s as simple and as monumental as that.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

Again, dinner together every night. It provides consistency and I think it’s just being able to count on that time that matters. Important things get said, not important things get said and, in the end, really, it’s all important. Also, going to school activities is really important to us. It shows you care about them; you care about their interests. Kids may get to the age where they say they don’t want you at things, but I want my kids to know that no matter what I am going to show up for them whether it’s a track meet or in life. It’s support.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

1. No device zones or times, limit distractions

2. Carving out time to be together. Every year we go to Greece, where my father’s family is from, and it’s our time together as a family. We look forward to it, we reminisce about it after we come home and regardless of everything else going on in life, we prioritize carving out time for us to come together as a family.

3. Create little traditions. Whether it’s things that you do leading up to big dates, specific activities around holidays, create little rituals because it’s the little things that they end up carrying with them. We made a gingerbread house one time and you better believe that now every single year, it’s not Christmas unless we have made that darn gingerbread house. Or the time that I told my daughter that we didn’t need to buy a birthday card for her friend because we could make one with something I drew. It’s been years and she still comes to me with a blank sheet of paper saying “We can just make the card, here you go.” Intentional traditions or not, we make sure to follow through on these things that have become traditions because it means so much to them and to us as parents.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

I feel like I am nailing being a parent when there’s laughter. Nothing makes me happier than when they are laughing and joking, either together siblings or engaging with me. Sometimes they take playful jabs at me and while we are cracking up, I think about how happy I am that whatever I did to get here, I have kids who want to be together with me and just laugh. Love, support, laughter- there is a lot of ways to be a good parent but that’s what feels like success to me.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

Drop seeds of dreaming big and be there to guide them along. I think leading by example is key in terms of inspiring your children. Years ago, life trajectories were kind of set; people stayed with jobs and houses and locations for most of their life and there was an expected timing for the things you were supposed to do. Part of why I wanted to move to Chicago from New Zealand was to open my kids’ eyes to new experiences, to the idea that the world is a big place and that they really can do anything they want. New things aren’t easy but even just being aware of what opportunities exist can trigger a big dream. I also think the connection between the dream and what it’s going to take to get there is important. One of my children wants to be a pilot so the path of research, education and flying lessons has started. I am proud to support his dream and hope that being present to guiding him along will aid in more big dreams.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Success really is a journey not a destination. There is no finish line and if you are going to hate the process of getting to what you think will determine success, success is never going to materialize. I ask myself: Is my family happy? Are they growing? Is the company growing? Are Chicagoans accepting what Mojo is doing and embracing the culture we love of growth, development and beautiful coffee and food? If the answers are yes, then I feel we are on the path of being successful.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

Nothing inspires me to be a better parent than being a parent. It’s so important that your kids like and respect you- that’s all the inspiration I need.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You get what you give. In life and certainly in hospitality, you are always giving out something and you get it back. Spending your life in the service of others and giving out positivity, support, care, genuine interest and taking personal responsibility will result in that being reflected to you through others. I see it in our cafes every day- if we have a week of “problem” customers or production issues, the first thing we need to look at is the place our team is in, what are they giving out in addition to coffee. It’s the same in life- take a look at the areas of your life you aren’t satisfied with and evaluate your contribution to the situation.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

That is exactly what I am working to do with Mojo Coffee. I want to start a movement around the New Zealand way of doing business, of doing coffee. It’s possible to be professional and operate at a high-level while being humble, likable, easy going.

Hospitality is what I grew up with and I believe in looking after people, in treating every customer like a guest coming into our home. Family values and business values run parallel and incorporating that into every aspect of life is a movement worth participating in and spread. That and really great coffee of course.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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