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Interview with Tom Panaggio

Kara M. Zone

October 27, 2014

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Interview with Tom Panaggio
by Kara Zone

If you research Tom Panaggio online you will find his life story, an extremely compelling background, and a love of racing cars. He is a self-made motivator and I was privileged to speak with him. Tom is an amazing and warm individual who created a welcoming place to talk about his life, his ideals, how to take risks, and why it can be important for your happiness.

What motivated you to make the move to Florida?

Tom Panaggio (TP): In 1983, my brother Mike had moved to Florida, while I stayed back to help my Father with his basketball team. I worked advertising, merchandising and promotions for the team. After awhile the team was unable to pay me. That's when I knew it was time for a move.

Was there any hesitation on your part to make such a large shift in your life?

(TP): I am going to claim youthful omnipotence. My ignorance helped me think moving would be a great opportunity. I never hesitated. I didn't think about what I would be leaving behind. I knew it would be where I would make my mark in the world. I didn't want to be thrown into a factory life, I knew I had a greater calling.

There was opportunity down south, and a decline in industries in the north-east. We could all see the writing on the wall. This was when we had a couple of GM factories, and Kodak was a big name too. It was a time when things were changing. I knew that if I stayed, I would be trapped in a lifestyle where I could be caught up in the corporate world and I didn't want that. I was tired of the cold. Thinking of no more snow and cold, that was a nice incentive.

Is this where you have gotten your mantra "Risk Advantage?"

(TP): Yes, in a way. I was brought up to believe in myself. When I was eighteen and nineteen years old, my friends who had the factory jobs were bringing in the "big money" at the time. They were buying their own cars and some of them even bought homes. They chose the path that they thought would set them up for the future.

In hindsight, I realized the path of certainty is the "easy" path. If we look at my friends who stayed back because of the stability of the factory life, they were the ones who had more anxiety. They didn't know if they were going to have their jobs when they went into work each day. A lot of people suffered in many ways, some did end up losing their jobs others got stuck in the factory lifestyle, and their paychecks have only advanced slightly. Many of them are still in the same place.

It takes an extra special person to take a risk, to take the leap of faith. I look at my small circle of friends, one friend had the same personality as I did. He dropped out of GM, went to med school and now he is a doctor. All of us who got out, took that risk, we have all found success from our own ambition, drive, and in loving what we do.

When you arrived in Florida, did you have a plan already?

(TP): Not exactly. But, the day I moved to Daytona Beach was the same day the Daytona 500 started. It was kismet. I talked my sister, Kathy into moving to Daytona as well. As soon as she arrived we starting to put Direct Mail Express into direct marketing and the rest is history. There is also the spin-off company, RME (Response Mail Express), they have done very well for themselves.

There is that one thing we do, which is always categorized. What we have to do is ask ourselves are we doing something because we "have to," or because we "want to"? I wanted to do something different. I wanted control over my life. I hated working for the investment brokerage firm the first two years after college. My friend saw it as a protective nest. He did something he "had to" do. In the end it comes out to sacrificing the instant rewards against the long term benefits.

Since you sell risk, how do you classify challenges?

(TP): As I grew up in an athletic inspired family, sports were a very dominant force in my life. It has helped to give me a context of a basketball team. If you practice, the idea of challenge will not bring fear into our hearts. We were conditioned to prepare for the challenge and then follow through in the execution of the game and change up if the situation warranted it.

It's not that I don't have apprehension. I know if I am well prepared, I can overcome anything. I have to credit my father with that. He was an entrepreneur but in a different kind of way.

As a father, how do you use your life lessons when speaking with your daughters?

(TP): My daughters personalities are all different. I have told them the same thing. Do what you want to do. I always tell them "On Monday morning as I go to reach out for the doorknob - you are in the wrong place if you are dreading it. You are wasting everyone's time. It's okay to make a mistake. Failure is not the end all."

It's ironic. My middle daughter, is working for a monstrous corporation. This petite little thing is an aerospace engineer. She is working on the F-35. Even for her, as intelligent as she is, getting into that career is a risk. There are not many women and she has to be a powerhouse to get noticed and she is. Think about how many rocket ships are there? It's a small field but she absolutely loves it.

My oldest daughter went back to law school after a few years in the work field. She didn't like what she was doing and wanted to pursue another avenue. Education and the belief in yourself are a great opportunity.

And then my wife and I technically adopted a 14 year old girl last year. It's exciting to see how she is developing and responding to a different environment.

Do you look at your children as a personal success?

(TP): The definition of personal success is not what you have but the influence you have on the people around you. Because I was influential in their lives, they have gained an advantage over someone else. They are able to fulfill their personal desires.

When I was CEO of a company I wanted to make sure that I had happy employees. Happy employees want to do good work for you. When they don't feel their voice is being heard, or that they don't matter, that is when things will start to slip in the company. I believe it's important for all leaders to be attentive and to ask themselves show a certain situation will benefit their employees. When we are in a leadership role, we influence a group of people. I believe good, healthy communication breeds a positive, constructive and productive environment.

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