Where did you grow up, and what do you remember most about it?
I grew up in Hazleton, Pa. It’s in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Right where the Pocono Mountains stop being beautiful and start to look like coal mines. I remember that Hazleton was a town in decline—literally, culturally, and spiritually.
What was your first job?
After college? I worked for a year for my Dad, who had a hardware, and carpeting store. I worked in the carpet department—mostly cutting pieces of carpeting off large rolls in the warehouse. It was more physically demanding than anything else, but I enjoyed it, because I got to learn about business from my Dad.
What is your first political memory?
You’re dating me here! I remember the 1960 Presidential election. Kennedy vs. Nixon. My mother worked in the Nixon headquarters. I had a job (I was 9)—putting nickels in expired parking meters, along with a note that said something about saving the car owner from a parking ticket and encouraging them to vote for Nixon. I also remember seeing both JFK and Henry Cabot Lodge (who was Nixon’s running mate) speaking in Hazleton. You can guess who got the larger audience.
What is your favorite book?
I am an avid reader, and don’t really have a favorite book. I have several favorite authors—Hemingway, Mailer, Bellow, Pat Conroy, Paul Auster among them.
Richie, when George Zimmer initially offered you a partnership at Men’s Wearhouse, you turned it down, opting instead to follow your dream of working at an advertising agency. However, you say that you knew you had made a mistake the second you walked into your first day there. What led to the epiphany? And then, why did it take you six months to quit and go back to Men’s Wearhouse, which was “just where you belonged?”
Short answer? After literally changing my life’s path to move to Houston and seek a job in the advertising industry, I couldn’t believe that I was “wrong”. I had to stick it out at the advertising agency just to see what it was like and to learn what it was all about.
I find it interesting that you mention integrity as the most important factor in your success (or “luck,” as you call it). I likewise feel it is incredibly important, but feel that that is not often alluded to as a necessary characteristic of successful people. Why is it so important to you??
At the end of the day, it’s all you really have. And I don’t see it as a characteristic of successful people. I see it as a characteristic necessary for anyone in order to live a mindful and fulfilling life.
Who is your role model and why?
Jim Green. Nah…I honestly don’t have one role model. There are aspects of several people that I admire.
As you look at your community, city/state/country, how do you view your role/responsibility as a citizen? Within that context, how do you view your role as citizen in relation to our government and democracy?
I think that my role is to show up—to get involved in the areas that I feel passionate about. I think it’s also my role to listen—to both sides of an issue—to not just automatically tune out the voices that I don’t agree with.
Just about everyone (regardless of political affiliation) sees a large gap between our politics (Washington, DC as well as state capitals) and the reality on the issues we face as a Country. Why do you think that is? I know it's a tough question, but what do you think can be done to close that gap?
The media. Yep. TV and radio, mostly. The advent of all news stations has brought with it the need to fill up airtime. That, in turn, has caused the stations to make “news” when none really exists. I happened to have been in Florida a few weeks ago the day that Justin Bieber was taken from prison to the courthouse. I hadn’t seen news coverage of a car ride since OJ. And for what?
I honestly don’t know what can be done to close the gap. One would have thought that a national “incident” might have done the trick. But not too long after 9/11, there we were again—disagreeing over mundane issues. I don’t think that tossing out all of our current electeds is the answer—they’ll only be replaced by the same similar-minded folks. I’m not sure, but maybe getting the money out of the process—by not allowing those with the most money to have the loudest voice—is a possible solution. My fellow T4A member, Jim Greer, might be on to something.
Are political parties becoming less relevant today, particularly for young adults? Whatever your answer, why do you think that is?
I don’t think so. I think what is less relevant is the old way of doing things. We need a revolution in the way we deal with democracy—but we still need democracy.