How Music Star John M. Vento Thrives as a Celebrity Turned Entrepreneur With Ming Zhao

I think that every successful person has to have unrealistic crazy optimism, because there’s lots and lots of obstacles that get in the way. There are times when logic tells you your’e going to fail, and if you listen to logic too often, then you would never do anything. It’s like, call an attorney before […]

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I think that every successful person has to have unrealistic crazy optimism, because there’s lots and lots of obstacles that get in the way. There are times when logic tells you your’e going to fail, and if you listen to logic too often, then you would never do anything. It’s like, call an attorney before you cross the street. Unrealistic optimism is the key.

John M. Vento, Singer/Songwriter, is often called a chameleon in the Pittsburgh music scene. The front man for the high-energy, hard-rockin’ Nied’s Hotel Band is also known for his introspective, brooding solo recordings. His fans relish his blend of eclectic influences, delivered with raw emotions, which he masterfully shared in his current release, “Love, Lust & Other Wreckage,” an almost all true autobiographical story of his love life and how it has been affected by his first love, the stage. John’s story has been so artistically crafted that it gained the attention of renowned playwright/lyricist, Amy Hartman. Her rendition of John’s saga was shared as a stage play featuring music from the album on September 13th & 14th, 2019 at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont just outside of Pittsburgh. And now, the cast and crew are modifying the production, then sharing it again in 2020. A father of three, Vento is a successful Pittsburgh businessman, and helping to create many small businesses by supporting and mentoring young entrepreneurs, in addition to offering encouragement to new and veteran musicians. John has created his own venue to accommodate these musicians… Steamworks Creative is a listening room off Route 8 in Hampton Twp., not far from his home, which has just celebrated its second anniversary in allowing musicians to perform acoustically without the noise and general din of many club venues. He and his crew host open stages and artist showcases, which include an autism friendly open mic. His passion for autism awareness is quite personal. “My godson is on the spectrum, as well as others in our family.” Together with well-known Pittsburgh venue owner and champion of live music, Ron ‘Moondog’ Esser, he co-founded “Band Together Pittsburgh.” We want folks to see how beautiful and talented those on the spectrum really are,” he says. “You would have to come to one of our Autism Friendly Open Mic events to see first-hand what I’m trying to say. It’s amazing on every level.” “Please don’t give me too much credit. We just create an opportunity where charitable causes can use our performances as a platform for support,” Vento explains. “My inspiration was and is the late great Harry Chapin. He dedicated his life to charitable efforts through his music. He really is my hero.” It’s no surprise that John Vento credits his hero and his collaborators for his accomplishments, as he truly is a humble, loving, and grateful person, who treasures his family and friends. Certainly, that comes across, loud and clear, in his honest, from-the-heart songs; and that, undoubtedly, is another quality which endears him to his fans. As he puts it, “If just one person is touched in some small way by one of my songs, that’s the greatest reward that I could receive.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory of how you came upon this career path and to where you are today?

First off, I’m not a celebrity. I’m a local Pittsburgh guy who has been blessed with wonderful friends and supporters, both in my business and music worlds.

My father was a landscaping contractor. My plan was to follow in his footsteps and get involved with the business, but… my mother died at a young age, right before my senior year of high school. I struggled so terribly with her passing that I barely graduated. I was a good student before, but my life just went downhill. My dad was really concerned about me, so he shipped me off to Grand Rapids, Michigan after graduation where dear friends of my mother lived and worked at Westinghouse in the factory. I was only supposed to be there for 4 months, but I ended up staying for 4 years. I had a lot of lucky breaks, which led to me becoming the National Project Coordinator in the Westinghouse Office Furniture Division. I traveled the country extensively from San Francisco to New York City. I really grew up very quickly in the world of corporate America, meeting and working with high level executives.

Well, on May 1st, 1983, I came back to Pittsburgh and started CIS Office Furniture Installers. It was just me and my cousin at the time, with a $2000 credit limit. That was the extent of our funding. We are now entering our 37th year in business. We’ve grown to over 50 employees and work on a national basis.

Even though my business career has been built around office furniture, I’m still very involved with gardening and landscaping on a very serious level.

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 about that?

In business, my mentor and god-father was John DeFazio. He was a marketing executive at Westinghouse who I met when I was 19 years old. The short version of the story is this… because I didn’t go to college and was more of a “street kid” I didn’t always follow procedures in order to make customers happy. What I didn’t know was that one particular customer had connections at the highest level of Westinghouse Corporate headquarters. This customer was friends with John DeFazio, a Westinghouse executive. So DeFazio calls up Grand Rapids, Michigan (DeFazio was at corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh). At that time in 1980, Westinghouse was a 10 billion dollar entity. At church one Sunday, this customer tells John DeFazio that this 19 year kid was the first person to finally come in and solve the problems that persisted for quite a long time. John DeFazio called the president of the furniture division in Grand Rapids, and asked, “Who is this kid? I want to meet him.” From that moment on John guided my career at Westinghouse, then after he retired, he helped me start CIS Office Furniture Installers, and stayed with me until his death in 1999.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I walked into an architectural firm at the age of 22 like I was something special… we had a “Lunch & Learn” for which I brought in 25 lunches for a presentation, and not a single person showed up for it. I was stuck with all these meals, so I invited all the secretaries and data entry folks and turned it into a very expensive lunch. I learned that you shouldn’t make any assumptions, and that I should’ve done my homework to confirm the attendance.

As a celebrity, you have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?

Well I think that every successful person has to have unrealistic crazy optimism, because there’s lots and lots of obstacles that get in the way. There are times when logic tells you your’e going to fail, and if you listen to logic too often, then you would never do anything. It’s like, call an attorney before you cross the street. Unrealistic optimism is the key.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. You have been successful as both a celebrity and an entrepreneur. Most celebrities don’t make that transition successfully. We’d love to learn your secret. How do you do both?

I have tremendous teams of great people in both worlds. I’m surrounded by talented, competent people who are conscientious and dedicated. I empower people to take on responsibility with great trust, I have confidence that when I delegate those responsibilities, the jobs will be done like I would’ve done them myself, or in many cases, even better. In order to keep up with the amount of activity that crazy people like me have, working with like-minded people is the key to success.

In my work, I focus on how one can thrive and care for oneself in three areas: body, mind, and heart. You are a busy leader with a demanding schedule, can you share with our readers two self care routines, practices or treatments that help your body thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

For my physical well being, I exercise regularly, a minimum of 3 days per week, and do my very best to take in good nutrition.

Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

As crazy as it might sound, I shut down from the world pretty early every evening… no phone, no email, no social media. One of my favorite activities during my disconnect time is watching documentaries about interesting people.

Can you share with us two routines that you partake in to help your heart or spiritual side to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

For my heart… I give back as much as possible to valuable charitable organizations.

For my spiritual side… My Christian faith is very important to me. I go to church and do weekly bible studies with my girlfriend Michelle.

All of us have great days and bad days. On days when you feel like a rockstar what do you do? What does that day look like, and what did you do to get there?

First of all, I don’t ever feel like a rockstar. I’m a pretty optimistic upbeat kind of guy. I try to get up early every day, and check on my action lists. I like to have things in writing, so I have lists of things I want to accomplish that day and beyond. I get excited when I take my pencil or pen, and scratch off my accomplishments.

In contrast, on days when you feel down, what do you do?

On days when I feel down, when things aren’t coming together, I dig down and work harder. I rev up the energy level even more, because it doesn’t come quite as easy when you get off track with the plan. I try to focus more, work harder, and get back on track. The real key is to “slay one dragon” at a time, don’t get overwhelmed and celebrate small successes in order to build energy to conquer the next problem.

Is there a particular resource, a practitioner, expert, book, podcast that made a significant impact on you and helped you to thrive? Can you share a story about that with us?

As I mentioned before, John DeFazio. After he left Westinghouse, I was with him almost every day until he died, so it was like being in college for 16 years! It was learning at the highest levels of business and life, 5 days a week. As far as other inspirational figures, if I were to name a group of people that I really admire and love learning about, I would say the founding fathers of our great nation. Talk about perseverance, guts and courage!

Do you have a story about the strangest, most bizarre or funniest wellness treatment that you’ve ever experienced?

Smudging… that was something different for me, although, I know for many people, this is a very sacred part of their spiritual practice. My neighbor did this for me as a Father’s Day ritual. Smudging is a traditional Native American method of burning sacred herbs to produce a smoke cloud which is used in various cleansing or prayer ceremonies and purification or healing rituals. Smudging is the ritual cleansing of the mind, body and spirit.

You’re a high achieving creative authority and leader, and yet, you may have family and loved ones that require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the high powered executive at the door, and become a loving caretaker at home?

That’s not easy, because all day long you’re barking out orders, giving instructions, delegating and acting like the boss, and then you get home and have to be very careful, especially being a type A aggressive personality. That takes maturity and time. You have to be aware of it, and let your loved ones know that it’s ok to “call you on your shit”… like if I’m being a little too bossy with my daughter, she knows it’s ok to say, “Hey Dad, cool it.”

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 with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

The President of the United States, because Trump is very active in the worlds of both business AND entertainment. Plus I’d like to tell him to “cool it” with his nasty comments. He would be so much more successful as a leader if he didn’t piss off so many people!

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