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Tips From The Top: One On One With Ramon Castillon

I spoke to Ramon Castillon, President of Row House, about his journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Ramon: After watching Jaws as a young kid, I’ve convinced myself that sharks are lurking in all bodies of water (pools, lakes, rivers). It’s an irrational fear, but because of it, I hate going in the water or being on boats despite knowing how to swim.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Ramon: Growth is never linear, and neither is my story. I started in finance, ran pricing for a national gym, and then jumped into boutique fitness. Prior to Row House I scaled a smaller boutique brand from the ground up, wearing multiple hats, and that came with its wins and losses. 

Throughout all this, I’ve seen people paralyzed by the fear of making mistakes or failing. It’s a real fear that can have serious outcomes, but if it controls your decision making, you’ll get caught in a box of immobility. You will make mistakes – that’s a fact. I’ve made plenty of them. Learn from those mistakes so you don’t make them again, and then move on. Don’t dwell.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Ramon: The ability to trust in the people you’ve hired, and allow them to do their jobs, is one of the hardest qualities as a leader. It’s learning to let go and care all at the same time, but the more you empower your people the harder they’ll work because they’ll feel the ownership. 

It’s also important to make sure no one is left behind and you’re listening to everyone on your team – executive to associate. Many times leaders tend to forge a path with a mentality of “get on, or get out” or only want to hear filtered information from the few at the top – but by doing so, you miss crucial feedback, issues within the business, or creative ideas that can drive success.  

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Ramon: 

  1. Don’t be afraid to sit in the muck. All businesses have ups and downs, but we try to escape the lows as quickly as possible. While it’s important not to dwell on mistakes or failures, it is important to live and mull them over long enough to learn from it.
  2. Invest in yourself daily whether it be through reading, dialogue, diet, physical exercise or meditation. Like training for a race, your spirit, body, and mind need constant nourishment to help you be the best leader possible. Do not cheat yourself or others of your full potential. 
  3. You don’t need to be a genius; you just need to know how to multiply genius. It’s not about being the smartest person in the room, but rather motivate your team to be the best version of themselves, come up with their own ideas, and then execute. As a leader you really just want to be the bumper rails at a bowling alley, let the team be the bowler with the bowling balls.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Ramon: The best advice I received, especially when dealing with a brick and mortar business, was to spend time on the “front lines”. For me, that meant leaving the corporate office and working at a gym as the manager for nearly a year. 

Often leaders don’t spend time working the front lines with their employees, interacting with customers, and understanding the pain points. This is a miss. By rolling up your sleeves and entering the trenches, you get a better understanding of how corporate strategy can translate into realistic in-store tactics while also gaining a level of credibility and relatability with your entire workforce. 

Some of the most successful business models, like Trader Joe’s or In-N-Out, have a policy where corporate employees are either required to work their way up from the store level or work at stores on a regular basis. It pays dividends to keep corporate personnel in-touch with what matters most – the customer experience, which all starts at your brick and mortar locations.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Ramon: Encourage and coach. In today’s world, there are so many ways we find ourselves knocked down. I am a big believer in pushing everyone to their full potential, while also giving them a soft spot to land if a mistake is made. That means building people up versus knocking them down, but also challenging them to think bigger and to be more confident. When you help someone grow, and allow them to make mistakes, you hope they do the same for others as well. 

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Ramon: I love golf because it is difficult to master, requires patience, mechanics, practice, and creativity, and an authentic score requires true honor. But the biggest thing it’s taught me is that while you can grind away, practicing day in and day out, sometimes you need help to get to the next level. After years of spending time on the course and at the range, I finally invested in lessons. We can all be stubborn about asking for help (or hiring a coach), but by swallowing a bit of pride and stubbornness, improvement and success can accelerate.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Ramon: Be kind and treat others with respect. Being a leader requires a willingness to make unpopular decisions that can have a deep impact on those around you. However, no one deserves to be diminished, belittled or ridiculed. The golden rule applies to business as well, never forget to treat others as you would like to be treated.

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