Jason Ditkofsky: “Be ready to pivot and bet on yourself again”

Resilience is the act of never seizing to believe in oneself. Like many other things, resilience stems from fear. For many people, fear is paralyzing. For others, fear is the motivation they need to get themselves going. My biggest fear is not being able to bet on myself. I am, therefore, resilient because I will […]

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Resilience is the act of never seizing to believe in oneself. Like many other things, resilience stems from fear. For many people, fear is paralyzing. For others, fear is the motivation they need to get themselves going. My biggest fear is not being able to bet on myself. I am, therefore, resilient because I will never stop betting on myself to succeed.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Ditkofsky, President of McNeill Signs and Channel Letter USA.

Stemming from a long line of entrepreneurs, it is no surprise that Canadian-born Jason Ditkofsky become a business owner. He is the President of Channel Letter USA and his newest acquisition, McNeill Signs. This has allowed him to become a full-service operation, providing custom design, signage manufacturing, permit acquisition, and complete installation. But what makes Ditkofsky’s companies stand out are the lessons he learned from his grandfather, stepfather, and father — to always empower your employees, customers, and community.

As the South Florida community was ordered into quarantine, Ditkofsky was inspired to help and committed to donate up to 100,000 dollars worth of commercial storefront signage to those in the process of launching a new business or who need a refresh to their current one. Through the month of August, South Florida companies can apply by sending their 500-word essay to [email protected] to share their story on why they are the most deserving of the new free commercial signage.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I was born in Montreal, Canada. I had a great childhood, but I always hated the cold weather, and there aren’t too many options for warm climates in Canada. A total number of zero to be exact. My dream had always been to work in the Sports & Entertainment Industry. I was accepted to a specialized MBA program in San Diego and packed my stuff with no intention of ever returning. I loved it in California, and after graduation, I accepted a job at Sony Pictures on the actual studio lot in Culver City. I was 26, living in Beverly Hills, at what I thought to be my dream job. Life was great! It was 2008, the height of the recession, and being Canadian, I went to renew my work visa and was told that an American could do my job. I had to find something new in 30 days, or I would have to return to Canada. It was early November when this happened, and there I was again, with the winter staring me right in the face. To say that it was a low point would be an understatement.

Upon my return to Canada, I worked with my family and on some side ventures, but nothing with any long-term potential. I was 31, with no real direction, in a place I did not want to be, and with way too much flexibility. At that moment, I had two choices: 1- Feel sorry for myself or 2- Do something about it. I decided on the latter.

South Florida had always been a second home to me. Both sets of my grandparents had been snowbirds since the ’50s, and my mother and step-father spend their winters in Boca. Near family…check

Warm weather — check! Free place to stay while I got my bearings — check! I got rid of my condo, had a goodbye party, and headed South. I decided that I would never be back in the situation I found myself in when my California adventure came to an abrupt end, so I decided to buy a business and take advantage of an investment visa. After four months of searching and sitting down with multiple business brokers, I agreed to buy a sign franchise, and that is how I got my start. I eventually acquired other locations but decided to divest myself of them a few years ago and run a more centralized operation manufacturing electrical signs to industry. I was able to grow Channel Letter USA to what it continues to be today, and now with the acquisition of McNeill Signs, I have a full service, fully vertically integrated operation.

Side note — I am now a proud US citizen and will never be sent back to the depths of winter again.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or “takeaways” you learned from that?

There are so many stories that I can share, but they all arrive at the same conclusion. Business is all about how you treat people and how you allow people to treat you.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

We have the top of the line fabrication machines in the industry, and the best bucket/crane truck available, but what makes us stand out is our people. I believe that you really find out who you are in business with when something goes wrong, and it eventually will. I may not always tell you what you want to hear, but you will always be treated with respect, and you will know that you matter.

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?

Easiest question ever. My stepfather, Leonard Sheiner. He has believed in me, even in instances when I may have given him a few reasons not to. He has afforded me every opportunity imaginable and has been there to support me along the way. I would not be the man (family or business) I am today without him.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Resilience is the act of never seizing to believe in oneself. Like many other things, resilience stems from fear. For many people, fear is paralyzing. For others, fear is the motivation they need to get themselves going. My biggest fear is not being able to bet on myself. I am, therefore, resilient because I will never stop betting on myself to succeed.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Nobody specific. People who have lived through terminal illness, holocaust survivors, and veterans have experienced unimaginable conditions. If these people can move past those experiences and live seemingly normal, happy lives, then whatever bullshit that I am stressing over that needs to be overcome is really nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Maybe, but if they did, it went in one ear and out the other. I don’t have enough time to worry about people who doubt me. I can handle that myself. My job is to concentrate on trying to prove myself right.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

Those five years between leaving California and moving to South Florida was a mental drain. Don’t get me wrong; I had a great time living in Toronto. Many of my best friends are still there to this day, but I felt paralyzed. I knew that I did not want to plant my roots there, but for a long time saw no way out. There is no secret sauce. You just have to take a chance. Mine was moving to Florida. I had no idea how it would turn out, but the one thing it wasn’t was spinning my wheels. Your next move may not be your right move, but the next one after that may lead you to your calling. Never be static and keep on taking chances. If you are not willing to bet on yourself, then why would anybody else?

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I grew up in a two-parent household, a sister, a dog, and everything that I could have asked for. Things are never perfect, but it seemed pretty close. One day I came home from school, and both my parents were back, which was weird considering the time. They sat my sister and I down and told us that they were getting a divorce. Just like that, life as I had always known it had changed. They sold the house soon after, and I moved in with my mother to a home, which was nice, but a definite downgrade. I was sad. I was angry. I was embarrassed.

There is no key turning point in the story. Life just continued under my new normal, and I just had to figure out how I would have to navigate it.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are five steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

1- Acknowledge your fear

2- Accept what you cannot control

3- Jump in and go for it

4- Assess your situation

5- Be ready to pivot and bet on yourself again

Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

There are three people:

1- Mark Cuban — The dude just goes for it. He seems to have fun doing it. I imagine that he would tell me what I need to hear without sugar-coating it.

2- Michael Ovitz — He revolutionized the entertainment industry. The man literally changed the way that business is conducted. He refused to stay in any lane and went after everything that piqued his curiosity.

3- Henry Grover — My maternal Grandfather. I never got to say a proper goodbye. It haunts me to this very day. He meant so much to me, and I miss him so much.

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