Rob Giuliani: “Turn the bad into good and highlight that to those around you”

The first thing everyone should do whether in business or personal life, is to make sure those around you are protected and safe . Then look at the positives of the “bad situation” in lieu of the negative outcomes you think will happen. Focusing on “how much money will I lose “ in my opinion […]

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The first thing everyone should do whether in business or personal life, is to make sure those around you are protected and safe . Then look at the positives of the “bad situation” in lieu of the negative outcomes you think will happen. Focusing on “how much money will I lose “ in my opinion is the WORST angle to take. Instead, you tell yourself and your team, we will lose money, but how can we come out of this with the respect and loyalty of those around us. You can’t buy that with money.

Inthis interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management 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 Rob Giuliani, Co-Founder and CEO of Playa Bowls, New Jersey’s original superfruit bowl franchise. Avid surfers, Rob and Playa Bowls co-founder Abby Taylor conceptualized the company while exploring surf breaks around the world, where they noticed that versions of superfruit acai and pitaya bowls feature prominently in the surfer diet. Inspired by the unique flavors and driven by their desire to share the delicious healthy discovery with family and friends, Abby and Rob brought their own twist on bowls back to the Jersey Shore, setting up the first Playa Bowls location- a single umbrella stand on the boardwalk. A graduate of the Rutgers Business School and a veteran of the United States Air Force, Rob’s business acumen, work ethic and leadership skills are integral in the stewardship of the rapidly growing franchise with 85+ locations. In addition to his role as CEO, Rob oversees front-end operations for Playa Bowls nationwide. In 2019, Rob was a recipient of the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Regional Award for Innovation.

When he’s not at Playa Bowls, Rob is surfing Mal Pais in Costa Rica, or Domes in Rincon, Puerto Rico.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

Thank you for including me in this article! I grew up in a small town in Northern New Jersey called Ringwood. A small town with one traffic light on top of a mountain. The most exciting news is that a McDonald’s was coming to town. My father is an Italian immigrant who came to New Jersey when he was 26 for a summer job but met my mother and ended up staying in the United States working most of his life in the catering business. When my two older brothers graduated high school and went off to college, my parents moved us down to Toms River which was the complete opposite of the small town we were used to; four high schools and bustling tourism during the summer. I quickly acclimated to this new lifestyle by picking up surfing as my go-to hobby. After I graduated high school, I joined the New Jersey Air National Guard which paid for my four years at Rutgers University, where I graduated with honors, majoring in economics and communication.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

Today I am the CEO and co-founder of an Acai superfruit bowl shop called Playa Bowls. We have over 90 locations — of those, approximately 70 are franchise locations and the remaining 20 are corporate locations. I started this company on a small cart in front of a pizzeria in a shore town called Belmar, NJ. With the purchase of one refrigerator, patio set from K-mart, extension cords running up to my apartment, and blender, Playa Bowls was born.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I spent 9 years enlisted in the New Jersey Air National Guard. I was honorably discharged as an E-5 Staff Sargent. My job in the Air Force was a KC135 crew chief which was basically an aircraft mechanic. I was deployed during Hurricane Katrina to Gulfport Mississippi and once to the Middle East . The 2 most important things I learned while in the military that has made me successful with Playa bowls is attention to detail and understanding the importance of “chain of command.”

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

While stationed in Doha, Qatar, I met several interesting people from around the world and quickly learned how different their cultures were and where they came from how different it was from where I did. But at the end of the day, I made friends with all of these people and we realized that the one common denominator was that we loved our country.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

My brother was a major in the United States Army who was also deployed to the Middle East during the same time as me. My brother was an orthopedic surgeon in the Military and his love and passion was and is helping people recover from traumatic injuries. His experiences in the Middle East reinforced my belief that our military doctors are true heroes. He left behind his wife and two beautiful children to do two tours in Afghanistan for over 9 months. His stories about the US soldiers who were torn apart by roadside bombs were horrific, and no amount of training could have prepared him for treating these types of injuries, but he persevered. In addition, he often had to treat enemy soldiers, who were also horrifically injured, which must have been incredibly difficult, but he did it and he is my hero.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

A hero for me is someone who goes above and beyond for human nature, and puts others before themselves.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

100%. The military completely prepares you to step up and be a leader, while making those around you better everyday. I still follow that mantra to this day with my company.

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?

I could probably list 100 people that have helped get me to where I am today, starting with my amazing parents, brothers and friends. Without their support, and the difficult times I went through, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Even the pizza guy that gave me the opportunity to set up a small cart in front of his business knowing that the town would most likely give him a hard time. That will never be forgotten.

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 how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

Crisis in my opinion is when something happens and no one is prepared for it. Panic sets in and bad irrational decisions are made putting other people in danger.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

Always hard to predict or plan for a crisis as we have seen through covid-19, however, the number one rule that must be applied during any crisis, big or small, is to stay calm. And just like the military, you assess, do damage control, scan the environment, and listen to the experts. Sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to be reactive in lieu of proactive. Surround yourself with smart and strong people that can come together as a team or troop and get your Company through it .

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

The first thing everyone should do whether in business or personal life, is to make sure those around you are protected and safe . Then look at the positives of the “bad situation” in lieu of the negative outcomes you think will happen. Focusing on “how much money will I lose “ in my opinion is the WORST angle to take. Instead, you tell yourself and your team, we will lose money, but how can we come out of this with the respect and loyalty of those around us. You can’t buy that with money.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

Calm, cool, collective

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

My older brother James who is a school teacher in North Jersey, with a family of four and a wife. Although not the wealthiest man in the world by any means, he certainly is wealthy when it comes to happiness and remaining calm and measured in any situation. I look to him for guidance professionally and personally.

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?

I have to say I have been pretty fortunate, but like most people, we all go through some pretty crummy times whether that’s personal relationships or business dealings that don’t work out, etc. I opened a bar last summer in a very high traffic beach town with two friends. It was a very good opportunity, however, my lack of experience in the liquor industry was a great challenge. The bar ultimately closed, costing me around 80,000 dollars loss, however, I looked at it as one of the best-paid educations I have ever received.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Take a step back. Sometimes taking 1–2 days off even during a crisis isn’t the worst idea. When the COVID-19 crisis first hit, I saw a lot of panic. I got in my car with my dogs and mountain bike and headed north to Vermont for three days. It gave me ample time to think things through, come up with a plan and take myself out of the chaotic environment. I still handled several phone calls and emails remotely and when I came back I was stronger and had a clearer head.

2. Stay positive. I knew out stores were going to take a hit for an undefined amount of time, so I switched gears and started getting even more involved with the community then we had been in the prior years. My objective was to make others around me stay positive and put a smile on their face. I drove açaí bowls around to all my elderly neighbors daily and dropped off bowls at their front steps.

3. Turn the bad into good and highlight that to those around you. I saw many FB posts of my friends who have kids and for the first time in a really long time, I saw several families spending more

Time with each other at their dinner tables, playing games , etc . I then created “family DIY packs “ which gave families more of an opportunity to do activities with each other while in condiment.

4. Assess and communicate. I knew my employees were scared to come to work and I would never put them in a situation where they felt uncomfortable, even if that meant shutting down the stores while we weathered this storm. I communicated with all of our stores in the initial weeks giving them information about what was happening and offered them a choice to come to work.

5. Being a leader means making decisions and making them quickly. Second-guessing yourself and over-analyzing in my opinion is the biggest set back for any company, and especially in the military.

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 to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement it would be for our younger generation to limit the amount of time on social media. I catch myself on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook for hours every day. In the last few weeks, I have made a conscious effort to step back and limit myself to 30 minutes a day. The amount of information being passed through these social media channels, some good/some bad, I really think can take a toll on children who are very impressionable.

I would establish entrepreneurial vo-tech schools for those whom college isn’t a fit for, but who still want to be business owners.

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

Does Abraham Lincoln have an Instagram account because he would be my go-to.

A person who symbolizes a true calm strong leader.

Eddy Vedder would be my second choice as one of the biggest Pearl Jam fans alive. He is a great leader, smart, calm, and influential. His music has changed so many lives.

How can our readers follow you online?


Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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