John Israel is known simply as Mr. Thank You these days. After a stellar 16-year career as a Hall of Fame Cutco sales rep, influential manager, and coach or mentor to many other successful sales reps, John has embarked on a new journey to elevate the level of gratitude on the planet.  This began with his “Year Of The Thank You,” continued with the release of his book “The Mr. Thank You Project,” and has culminated with John launching his new career as a motivational speaker, teaching others how to understand and leverage the ROI of Radical Appreciation in their lives and businesses. A proud Gonzaga Bulldog, John now lives in Plano TX with his wife, Monica, their 2 young boys, and a third child on the way.


Q: I’d like to hear a little about your background so people can hear where you came from and how you ended up selling Cutco back in 2002. Can you tell us a little about that?

  • As a junior in high school my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. I didn’t really know what that meant but I was challenged with facing something different all at a time when I knew I would be headed off to college soon.
  • A few years later when I was in college I was faced with a new challenge which was my parents telling me that they weren’t in a position to continue paying for my college. On top of that they started to charge me rent to live at home.
  • Right around that time I got a letter in the mail from Vector Marketing so I went in for an interview, and even though I had never wanted to go into sales I had a friend who was doing well there, and he took me under his wing and really helped me. That was a really transformative year for me.

Q: What were some of the early challenges selling Cutco that you overcame and what were some lessons that came out of them?

  • My first big challenge was acquiring customers.It wasn’t so bad while I was back at home in San Diego but when I went back to college and I had decided to sell while in school, I had a difficult time starting off because I didn’t really know many people.
  • But out of that challenge I learned that being a good person who evoked the trust of my customers and sharing a vision of our company and me as an individual so they wanted to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on knives, AND write down the names and phone numbers of people they loved so I could call them them, was one of the biggest lessons I learned early on that has served me through my career including several moves to other cities and a few years ago to another state.

Q: What do you feel is your career highlight in the Cutco business?

  • It was really two back to back experiences part of which seemed like a negative experience that ended up being really positive about a year later.
  • To start, two years out of college I went to a Jeffrey Gitomer seminar because I really liked his philosophies and selling principles. During that seminar he pointed out that everyone in the audience was in different sales industries (some in tech sales, some in car sales, etc), and some people in the audience were working for a new company because they wanted a new opportunity, and some were considering leaving their current company because they were looking for a new opportunity. He then pointed out that wherever you go you will create the exact same experience of what you have right now. So if you leave your company, leave having accomplished everything possible because when you move on to the next opportunity you will create that there too.
  • At that time in my career I was selling about $100,000 a year and the coveted Rolex was awarded to any rep who sold $200,000 in a year. So I hired Jon Berghoff as my sales coach because at that time he was one of only 10 people to do that, he was the first one to do it, and he was the only one who was in a space to be a coach.
  • Now, that year I did sell $200,000 but here’s what happened… at the end of the year I was working my tail off and had broken the all-time company record for the month of December but I was still short of my goal by $3,000. And remember this is the week of Christmas so not many people were wanting to sit down with me and I felt I had done everything I could do and I was at the end of my rope and I thought, “you know what, I’m going to buy it.” So I bought $3,000 of Cutco justifying that I can give it out next year and it was within the company rules so it was totally legit.
  • Jim Rohn says, “success is not about what you have accomplished but who you have become in the process.”
  • Typically the purpose of a reward like a Rolex is a symbol that reminds you about what you had accomplished. When I went to the Year End Banquet and was awarded my Rolex and put it on,in that moment, I didn’t like who I had become, someone who was willing to compromise my integrity to achieve my goal.
  • Because I didn’t sell $200,000 and win a Rolex, I basically bought a Rolex for $3,000. So for me, every time I wore it, instead of a feeling of accomplishment and pride, I felt a level of guilt and didn’t feel like I deserve this.
  • I said this was one of my company highlights, that’s because the next year I had an average year but the following year I said to myself, “this year I’m going to do it! I’m going to sell $200,000 this year again but this time totally legit but this time I’m going to prepare myself to move on to become a District Manager and I’m not going to leave and have there be a gap in the business. I want to train a group of reps in the areas I have a customer base and train them how to work with their customers like I do and at the end of the year my plan was to pass my customers onto them.”
  • By teaching other reps I developed a better understanding of the sales rep role.

Q: Tell us about some other transformational moments in your life.

  • NOTE FROM THE SHOW NOTES EDITOR: John’s story in response to this question needs to be listened to for maximum impact. Outlining it here does it no justice. But here is the super shortened version.
  • John shares a story of him writing a thank you note to the first customer who ever cancelled an order from him and it highlights the importance of approaching life with gratitude as well as the power of putting relationships and people over profit.
  • John concludes this part of his answer with him reflecting on the small seed planted early in his career of the power of thank you cards and the impact that he felt by doing right by people.
  • Picking up from there…
  • Roughly 10 years later I had closed down my District Office and was focusing on being a Cutco Closing Gift Consultant where I sold large gift orders to Realtors for all of their house closing gift needs. So in short, I was helping people say “Thank you” for a living.
  • At that time, I listened to the Ted Talk by Simon Sinek called “Start with Why” and the message said that people don’t buy what a company is selling they buy why a company is selling it.
  • I realized that I was selling gratitude, not a product, and I wanted to create a Keystone Habit (as described in the book, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg) that embodied gratitude.
  • So I decided to commit to writing 5 hand-written thank you cards every day for 365 consecutive days.

Q: I know some really powerful stories came out of that experience, one of which happened right as you got started with this project. Can you tell us a little about that story?

  • I was 3 days into my project when I was headed on a flight to a Front Row Dad’s retreat and it occurs to me that I’ve been on a lot of flights and I’ve never thanked the pilots for safely getting me to my destination which got me thinking…
  • How do I thank someone that you don’t even know?How do you appreciate someone that you’ve never actually met?
  • The word appreciate comes from the Latin word appretiare which means “to appraise or set the value of a thing.”
  • So I wrote a thank you card to the 2 pilots from the first flight and the 2 pilots from the 2nd flight but I only had my personal business stationary with all my contact info. The next day I heard from 3 of the 4 pilots to thank me for expressing my gratitude. One pilot told me that in the 12 years he has been flying he has never once received a thank you card.
  • The next night the 30 guys who were attending the Front Row Dad’s retreat with me all went out for dinner and we showed up to a restaurant just before they were going to close and you could tell by the look on the server’s face and by reading her body language that she was looking forward to getting off early until the 30 of us showed up.
  • She took care of us in an immaculate way and did an amazing job and I thought to myself, “she’s going to be my 5th thank you card today.”
  • After giving her the card, I used the restroom and when I came out the server was waiting for me. She ran at me and gave me the biggest hug and told me “that was the best tip I’ve ever received.”
  • That experience made me realize that each of us have within us a desire to be seen and seen for our greatness.
  • What if our job every day was to look for what’s great inside of people and highlight that and reflect that back to people?
  • When you treat people that way, they show up differently. They show up better.

Q: In reading your book the big take away I got was the concept of “how do we treat that for which we are grateful?”  The book is called “The Mr. Thank You Project.”  Is there anything else from the book that you feel like you’d like to share?

  • I went to school at Gonzaga University in Washington and while I was there I recognized the school had an amazing culture for basketball so when I graduated I became a huge alumni fan. One year our team made it to the NCAA Final, only to have one of the worst games imaginable and I felt sick to my stomach after witnessing this loss. This was during the Mr. Thank You Project and that day I still hadn’t written any of my thank you cards yet and here I was needing to write thank you cards while being in a state of depression over this loss.
  • It was at that time that I realized a really interesting statement/ question that I now use any time of pain or challenge or frustration. Instead of trying to combat the feelings or making it wrong or being overly upset about it, try to listen to where that feeling is coming from and then ask the question, “how can I bring gratitude to this experience? What can I appreciate here?”
  • Suddenly that pain and frustration was transformed into this feeling of “what an honor it was to witness the best our team has ever done to get into the finals.”
  • The best way to change our experience in life is to change the conversations that we have.


  • Wherever you go, you’ll create the exact same experience there. Learn to succeed where you are.
  • Value people over profit.
  • Create Love at scale.
  • The power of daily habits and what that repetition creates in our lives.
  • Train ourselves to look for what’s great.
  • The best way to change our experience in life is to change the conversations that we have.



  • Hall of Fame- the highest level of recognition for a career milestone for Cutco/ Vector representatives and managers.
  • District Manager- a Cutco/ Vector office/ manager that runs a year-round office full time.
  • Field Training- a peer to peer training opportunity for a newer Cutco/ Vector representative to watch a more experienced representative do their Cutco presentation.


Show Notes provided by Carlo Cipollina

To learn more and get access to all episodes, visit our podcast page!

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