A Storied Career of Global Success
Bill LaRosa, CEO/Executive Leadership Coach, Business/Personal Growth Consultant, Experienced Public Board Director & Angel Investor
By, Chris Dessi
When I was 5 my Uncle would chase me around his house and rough house with my brother and I. He drove us around in his red MG. He had vanity plates that read “Bill’s MG.”
I thought he was super cool.
When I was 10 my Uncle pulled out a shoebox. An unimaginable pile of old passports spilled out. I began sifting through them. Stamps from Rome, Paris, London, Japan, China, Australia, etc, etc, etc. He’d been to countries I didn’t even know existed. Places I hadn’t heard of before. He’d been to each. Two times over.
I was in awe.
When I was 20 I was living and studying in Leuven, Belgium. I wanted to see the world just like my Uncle. He took me out for dinner in Brussels. We ordered Duck, drank Belgian beer, and chatted up pretty women.
I wanted to be him.
When I was 30 my Uncle and I spent an afternoon on a golf course in Austin, Texas. I grilled him. What was it like when you were in Brazil? What year did you visit Africa for the first time? What did you learn while in the executive program at GE in 60’s?
I wanted to learn everything from him.
At 40, I got to ask him every burning question I’ve had about his career. His big wins, some losses, and everything in between. He’s had a storied business career that has taken him around the world. He broke free from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, NY. No Ivy League education. No monied pedigree. Just a definitive chip on his Italian-American shoulder and a will to scrap, scrape and scratch his way to the top.
G. William LaRosa is not just my Uncle. He’s my Godfather. I’ve idolized him for as long as I can remember.
Recently, in the midst of a compelling conversation about business, I marveled at his intellect. He replied “I’m not that smart, I’ve just been around.”
I call that wisdom.
It’s my honor to share my Godfather’s wisdom on this blog.
Chris Dessi: You grew up in Brooklyn. I asked another Brooklyn native Rosanna Scotto – what is it with our national obsession over Brooklyn? Can you put into words why people are so fascinated with the borough?
Bill LaRosa: Brooklyn is a state of mind. it was the foundation of all I was to become or might have been. It is now a memory of my foundation as much as it is an aspiration. For me, the memory was a cross between West Side Story, the Goodfellas, and Happy Days. I have often returned to Brooklyn – especially when things were not going so well in my life – to walk the streets where I was raised and played to ground myself. It helped a lot to walk those streets. I could hear my friends calling, and smell the Italian cooking spewing from the open summer windows (before air-conditioning).
Chris Dessi: You’ve been a senior executive in corporate America, an entrepreneur, and an advisor. In the process, you’ve been able to travel the world. Was traveling always your goal, or did travel just manifest because of your profession? Tell us about that journey.
Bill LaRosa: Traveling at first was an adventure, the thrill of going somewhere I’d never been before. At that time it was all about the destination. There were so many private moments where I stared into an airplane or hotel bathroom mirror and wondered what the heck a kid from Brooklyn was doing in Zaire, Rio, Paris, Singapore, Sydney and so many more places I had only dreamed about. After a while when the airline million-mile awards started to appear the trips still remained exciting because even though I had been to most places numerous times it was now about the excitement of dealing with so many different cultures. Today I’ve planted my roots in Austin. I purposely don’t travel much anymore. I’ve had enough. Now I watch my friends take their dream trips to Paris and Rome and realize how fortunate I’ve been.
Chris Dessi: I speak with many successful executives that question the value of college. You have an undergraduate degree from Manhattan College as well as an MBA from Pace University. What do you say to those detractors of education?
Bill LaRosa: I believe one must follow their passions. Sometimes those passions don’t include college That’s ok, but when folks don’t know their passion it’s a good insurance policy to get an education. Maybe en route, a passion or two will evolve. But if you are among those who don’t yet know your passion, at least get a degree that is practical and you can make a living from it. If that evades you as well go to a trade school and learn a trade. I know millionaires who are plumbers, construction workers, restaurant owners, and electricians.
Chris Dessi: How do you define success?
Bill LaRosa: Doing what you love to do every day surrounded by people who love you and whom you love in return.
Chris Dessi: Can you explain the impact, if any, that social networking has made on your career?
Bill LaRosa: Frankly I don’t think it made a lot of difference in my business career. It’s a source of fun so far in my personal life with Facebook pictures and all. I have connected with many friends from my early childhood on Facebook. As far as business is concerned, I’m actually getting a facelift on my website. So come back to me in a year and I’ll let you know what return I get on that
Chris Dessi: How much of your success was due to luck? Or are you of the mindset that you create your own luck?
Bill LaRosa: I never had a career plan per se. I developed 2 traits early in life, which I suspect helped me along the way. The first was persistence. I was never the smartest or the most gifted person in the room but, recognizing that, I was determined to work the hardest to at least be considered as a candidate for those positions I targeted on the playing field, or corporate America. The 2nd was flexibility. I was always flexible. And I was blessed with a wife and family who supported me and allowed me to follow those opportunities which in turn provided them with a not-so-bad lifestyle.
Chris Dessi: Did you have a mentor when you first started out? How important do you think mentorship is for all executives?
Bill LaRosa: I didn’t have a mentor in the traditional sense ever. I wish I did. Over the years I worked for some terrific people and some not-so-terrific ones also. I learned a lot from the good guys and even more from the bad ones. I consider myself a lifelong learner and a student of everything that piques my interest at any given time. I am a little OCD and delve deep into stuff I like. . Ok, I’m more than a little OCD .
Chris Dessi: When did you first think of yourself as a success?
Bill LaRosa: Tomorrow
Chris Dessi: Many young executives struggle with work-life/balance – myself included. What advice do you give them? How did you strike a balance?
Bill LaRosa: Find yourself a life partner and soul mate that supports you and then you work like hell to make sure you and your family are taken care of. It’s best if those 2 are the same person. The only balance there is to all that, is to make sure you don’t lose your family as you provide the best for them. How do you do that? Each one of us is different and there is no formula…..figure it out, you’re on your own …but it’s one of the most important things you will figure out.
Chris Dessi: On paper, your resume reads like success, after success. Can you tell us about your biggest failure? How did it change you or shift your approach moving forward?
Bill LaRosa: I suppose I’ve had my share of “failures” but I guess I never looked at them that way. I’ve made tons of mistakes and have had bad things happen to me. But I’ve never considered them failure per se. The mistakes I’ve owned and tried to learn from, and the bad things, well, one tries to understand why things happened and although it’s harder, try to learn something from those as well. But learning is not where it stops. In order to benefit from these things I’ve learned to change my behavior to cause any real change to happen. That’s the tough part. And the older you get the tougher that becomes.
Chris Dessi: Who has been the greatest positive influence on your life? Tell us about that person.
Bill LaRosa: My father. Wow, where do I begin…..
Chris Dessi: You’re an avid reader. Always pushing yourself to learn more via books/audiobooks. How do you find the time, and what advice can you offer my readers who think they don’t have time to improve themselves with reading?
Bill LaRosa: No one has the time. One makes the time. If you don’t take that time to read to learn you never sharpen your ax and eventually you and it becomes so dull you find you cannot achieve much anymore. If you don’t take the time to read to enjoy or relax, you can never re-energize your batteries.
Bill LaRosa: Persistence
Chris Dessi: You have 20 minutes to sit alone in a room with the 21-year-old Bill LaRosa. He’s just graduated from college, and he’s about to embark on a career that will take him around the world. What advice do you give him?
Bill LaRosa: Keep a journal, take lots of pictures and keep them in a safe place, never quit, enjoy the ride and buy lots of Austin real estate in zip code 78704
Chris Dessi: For someone who has seen great monetary success – what do you think is dangerous about that type of success?
Bill LaRosa: At some point, there’s enough but for many, the feeling is there’s never enough. The danger lies in the latter feeling. Reality and peace lie in the former.
Chris Dessi: How important are habits and routines to your success father? What is your Rhythm? What time do you go to bed? Do you exercise? Do you meditate?
Bill LaRosa: I do Bikram (i.e.: Hot) Yoga. I call it the boot camp of yoga, It has changed my chemistry for the better, my body for the better, and my mind. I sleep 7-8 hrs. per night and try to meditate whenever I can.
Chris Dessi: How has your childhood (the way you were raised, your birth order) affected your career success? Did it at all?
Bill LaRosa: Yes, it’s taught me persistence, focus, responsibility, and loyalty to family, country, and God….especially family.
Chris Dessi: As an Italian American – have you ever had to overcome discrimination?
Bill LaRosa: One time years ago when trying to buy a house in Darien Connecticut. The realtor actually said to my wife and me that she didn’t have anything in this town to show us. That was almost verbatim even though she knew we had more than enough money to buy anything we wanted. I laugh at that moment now and wonder where she is today. With a perspective like that her lack of success in her career and in life was virtually assured.
Chris Dessi: You’re an active Board Member, advisor, and investor in many companies. What advice do you give to young entrepreneurs who are looking to get funded?
Bill LaRosa: Develop something unique that you are passionate about. If it’s unique and you believe people will pay for the benefits of what you will deliver, be persistent and tenacious in seeking every form of funding to launch and grow. An investor loves seeing money invested by the entrepreneur. From friends and family, from crow funding, from any partners/employees, etc.
Chris Dessi: What has been your greatest career success to date?
Chris Dessi: Tell us about a time while traveling when you felt scared for your life. If ever.
Bill LaRosa: There were many times… Jeddah and Zaire in the late 70s were the worst. Some of the barrios in Rio during the same time come in a close second. Walking my date back home in Brooklyn, Bedford Stuyvesant section in the 60 s regularly made me bead my rosary all the way to the subway station.
Chris Dessi: You’ve managed many people throughout your career. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Bill LaRosa: Be genuine. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Clearly understand your objective and desired results. Listen to your team’s views on how to achieve them. Solicit the opinions of others on the same. Decide on the alternatives, select one, communicate it clearly to your team, assign KPIs to each team member explain how achieving them helps the overall mission, and lead by example.
Chris Dessi: I believe you have so much to offer in terms of advice and guidance for business people – will you ever write your memoirs?
Bill LaRosa: Probably not, they’d be X rated.
Chris Dessi: My daughters know that I hate witches – what’s one thing that scares the hell out of you?
Bill LaRosa: Heights. I skydived to try to overcome the fear but after 38 jumps I’m still scared to look over my home office’s 2nd-floor balcony
Chris Dessi: Best day of your life.
Bill LaRosa: Tomorrow
Chris Dessi: Worst day of your life?
Bill LaRosa: The day my father died. My dad died on my birthday. I made a horrible decision to prioritize a business meeting in Geneva where I was living at the time over returning home at my family’s request. Worst decision I ever made. I don’t celebrate my birthday anymore instead I reflect upon my dad and the regrets of a very bad day
Chris Dessi: You have access to a time machine, but you can never come back to the present day. You can go into the future, or into the past. Where do you go in time?
Bill LaRosa: Always the future. The future is a mystery an adventure into your mind’s perspective of things to come. I have always been more about the next adventure than the past
Chris Dessi: Favorite alcoholic beverage?
Bill LaRosa: Jack Daniels when I’m drinking, Bombay Safire Extra dry martini when I’m “dining” out (shaken, not stirred), and a light beer over ice with 2 lime wedges when the Texas heat says it’s time for an adult refreshment
Chris Dessi: You’ve lived in both places – so I have to ask: Brooklyn or Austin?
Bill LaRosa: Austin. Brooklyn is the ME I was. Austin is the ME I commit to become
Chris Dessi: Name someone who knows more about you than anyone else in the world.
Bill LaRosa: My wife
Chris Dessi: Most powerful business book you’ve ever read that you recommend to everyone.
Bill LaRosa: Napoleon Hill: Think and grow rich. It says it all.
Chris Dessi: Country with the best-looking women (I had to ask).
Bill LaRosa: Sweden. . . by a long shot. (Tall fit blondes…paradise)
Chris Dessi: Which is the most livable city (outside of the US)
Bill LaRosa: Geneva Switzerland
Chris Dessi: The best city to be an entrepreneur?
Bill LaRosa: San Jose California or Austin Texas (boom town…800 people per day are coming here from all around)
Chris Dessi: The worst city you ever visited?
Bill LaRosa: Lagos
Chris Dessi: You’ve owned both – so I have to ask:
Bill LaRosa: Harley or Maserati? Harley … It’s the closest feeling to flying on land