ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST | JUSTIN NEEFUS
Q&A WITH JUSTIN NEEFUS
Q: Take us back 20 years ago to when you started out with Cutco.
- I had just finished my freshman year at college at the University of New York and I’m from a small town in the upstate area of New York. The only jobs there at the time were landscaping, farming, or getting involved in retail. I had done landscaping and worked at a dairy farm in the past, so I really just wanted something different.
- I saw an ad in the newspaper. It was very simple and straightforward. It said, “are you looking for fun, flexible work?” I believe the starting pay was $9 or $10 and no experience needed. I thought this is perfect! I needed something flexible around football camp and training. I worked part-time in my first summer and that’s how I got started.
Q: What were some of the early lessons that you gained from your experience?
- Everything from communication skills, public speaking skills, and professionalism. All of that for me was so much of an impact because they were skills I learned early on and hadn’t learned anywhere else.
- I think one of the biggest skills I learned, which until today I still try to work on and develop, is self-confidence. Cutco really allowed me to become more confident in myself. I realized early on, if you’re struggling with self-consciousness then you can’t be self-confident.
Q: I want to hear about a transformational moment in your career. I think you have a pretty big one to share.
- I left the business back in 2005 and had graduated with a degree of physical education and coaching as a minor. At the time I was in a band, a hard rock band. I was really into music and we were doing well. My buddy and I started a local record label in Rochester, New York.
- I came to a realization that I’d not only left behind a great company with great people, but there were some stones unturned. Over the years I got asked many times, “why did you leave the business?” I think I left because I was scared to dive in and make a commitment to Cutco.
- Within 10 months, I called my Division Manager and said “I’m not happy with what I am doing. What are my options?” He said, “Justin, the natural option for you is to become a District Manager.” It took a little while, but I came to the realization that how am I going to leave a great company, a great organization, but not be able to say that I really tried everything that I had as an opportunity.
- Came back to the organization first as an Assistant Manager. I had been Chris Hammond’s Pilot Manager for two years. I became Pilot Manager again in the summer of 2006 and a district in 2007.
Q: What stands out from your District Manager and Division Manager days?
- I always think back to having a district team. As a young adult, there’s really no greater opportunity than we put in the District Manager opportunity.
- As a young adult developing a team, our 1st full year we hit $750,000. To this day, I am a good friend of people who started during those years, then became branches or districts themselves. A couple of them moved with me when I got promoted to Division Manager and moved down to Ohio.
- Looking back at my District Manager career, one thing that stands out was how much fun we had building a team, a culture, and the relationships that came with that. As a Division Manager, it was exactly the same, but on a bigger level. I get to compete with the “best of the best,” and that’s always motivating for me.
- In the past year, I started taking coaching by a life and business coach and that had a profound impact not only my life outside of the business, but inside of the business too.
Q: After working with a life coach are you finding yourself learning tons of things you can then share with the people you’re working with?
- That’s what I love the most about it. As I learn more about myself in how I tick, how I best operate, and work in different situations, it’s great to be able to take that and not only use it as a coach myself with my people, but ultimately teach my people those same things.
- It’s great to have that kind of an impact and influence on people so they can grow themselves, not only in the Cutco business, but outside of Cutco business as well.
Q: You’ve had a lot of success over the last years as a Division and District Manager. What are some of the personal characteristics you feel you’ve leveraged in order to succeed as a leader?
- I think I’ve always been a dreamer. What I mean by that is I always think, what do I want my life to look like? What do I want my life to be? Where do I see myself in 3, 5, 20 years?
- I believe there’s a difference between just dreaming and actually visualizing what you want. I’ve always being focused on that. Seeing my future and mentally painting a picture of how I want it to be, where I could be, what could happen, and what I’m doing now leading to that.
- I think the key is having the discipline in the moment. The discipline in the present time to do the right things at the right times. I learned that early on with sports.
Q: You played football. What role did that play in helping you develop this sense of discipline?
- A tremendous role. If it wasn’t for football, I really don’t know what turn my life may have taken. In football, you always have to think ahead. You are always visualizing the next play as a linebacker. You can almost get to the point where you start to see the play unfold before it starts happening.
- With the discipline side of football, you learn that discipline is born out of hard work. If you aren’t going to work hard, you’ll be replaced by somebody who is going to and that’s what helped me make tough decisions.
- You also learn that discipline is a sacrifice. Really being able to give up one thing for the sake of another. If I’m going to be a better person tomorrow, I’m going to make sacrifices today.
- Discipline also creates a stronger sense of duty. It is almost like a moral obligation to be there for those in the trench with you.
Q: I love the connection you made between visualization and discipline because it’s one thing to say you’re going to do something, to set goals, to make a schedule. It’s another thing to actually do it and follow through. The visualization aspect enables people to feel how they will feel having done something. It certainly creates a high degree of motivation in the present when we employ this process of visualization. You referenced that’s something you do. Is that part of a daily routine for you? Is it something you do at a weekly basis? Do you write down parts of your vision? How do you employ that aspect in your life?
- Early on, it was more of just integrity. If I say I’m going to do something, I will follow through. More recently in my career, it’s a daily practice that I’ve learned to do. It’s part of my morning routine where I’ll visualize it, kind of see it through, and put myself in the environment like it has really happened.
Q: You talked about the team aspect of achievement. When you’re accountable to others there is also more motivation. How do you leverage that with your own people? How do you promote or leverage that to help people be successful?
- First of all, we constantly talk about it. Cavalier Division has grown into a division of great relationships; it’s not an individual game. We as a division are constantly talking about where we’re taking the division and all of our managers are onboard with that.
Q: How do you follow through on your commitments even in those times you don’t feel like it?
- It goes back to vision. We’ve heard the saying, “where there is a strong reason why, the way will happen.” For me, it’s always been about that vision. That vision creates clarity. This is how I want my business to look three, five, ten years from now. It makes it easier to make a decision when you’ve got clarity.
Q: This has been a crazy year, 2020. It’s pretty wild. You’re having the best year ever in your business. What are some of the gifts you feel like have emerged for you through this year?
- I think seeing our company come together the way it did. It has been so amazing! Just the way we’ve come together, not only survive this, but really thrive. Seeing that in the lives of these young adults during these really hard times has been awesome. Seeing that and being a part of it is probably the biggest gift.
Q: How about in your life? What are you most excited about?
- I love the holiday season. I hope we’ll get a little bit of snow for a few weeks. I’d love to get out there and do some snowboarding. My wife’s family lives in Idaho, so we’ll be going there for the holidays. I’m really grateful and thankful people in my circle are all healthy.
- I’m also excited for our Midwest region. 2021 is going to be the breakout year for our division and people.
Q: Under the theme changing people’s lives, how do you aspire to change people’s lives through what you do in the future with your organization?
- We are building a division for the greater, better good of our people. Our mission is to help develop young professionals. I really want our people to have the skills and opportunities, down the road, that a lot of people don’t have. I want them to be the best versions of themselves, and more importantly, help the communities they choose to be part of in the future.
- One of Justin’s early lessons in his Cutco/Vector experience was learning not to take things personally. To not be affected by what other people thought of him as he was pursuing the different things he wanted to pursue in his life and business.
- It’s important to view criticism with a different perspective. It helps us to learn something about ourselves and also to view failure with a new perspective. It’s a tool for greater self-awareness and the way to rapidly improve yourself.
- The most compelling lesson of this conversation is the direct connection between visualization and discipline. Really having that powerful, strong why in your life. When you have that, it will enable you to be disciplined at that moment.
Show Notes for this episode provided by Brian Njenga.
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