At a recent “Executive Confessional” event hosted by Core24 (a Dallas-based company that helps local companies network and connect with other local business resources), three local executives shared a notable experiences that changed their lives. Here’s a recap of those experiences—and the lessons they learned.
Ari Rastegar, Rastegar Capital
“How did I get here? Who are these people? And what is that smell? The coughs. The grovels. I’d never been more scared in my entire life,” recalled Ari Rastegar, CEO of Rastegar Capital and a self-made millennial millionaire, as he described his 27 hours in a Mexican prison. Rastegar says it was there that he learned the importance of first impressions. He was studying in Mexico while a student at Texas A&M, and got a toothache. He ignored it, but when the pain became too great, his instructor insisted he see a dentist.
On one of his last days in Mexico, Rastegar was at a bar with his teachers, classmates, and, oddly enough, his dentist. During the time he spent in Mexico, he had befriended some of the locals. He invited one of them, Carlos, to the bar that night to meet his school buddies. When Carlos arrived, Rastegar took a few steps away from his group to meet some of the men accompanying Carlos. He suddenly became surrounded by Mexican police and arrested with others in that group.
“Everything I had ever known was disappearing in the back window of a paddy wagon,” Rastegar says.
As it turns out, the men Rastegar’s acquaintance was associating with did not have the best reputations. And at the time, Rastegar had let his beard and hair grow out to a length that allowed him to blend in well with the group.
“It’s the little things that make the difference,” he says.“The smile, attention to detail, showing up.” Not only did this apply to the situation in Mexico, but it is also Rastegar’s advice for executives or anyone in the business world—especially in the entrepreneurship realm.
About an hour before Rastegar was to be transferred to a state prison, a large guard handed him a cup of water with a yellow tinge. “At that moment, I realized. ‘I’m dead. Either I’m going to die of dysentery or I’m going to get shanked by one of the guys dry-heaving in the cell next to me,’” Rastegar says. “So I prayed. It took me to the edge of my sanity. I’ll never forget what that feels like.”
Then, a miracle happened. The prison guard got Rastegar out of his cell, and led him to a car that was waiting outside. Inside was Rastegar’s dentist. As it turns out, she was good friends with one of his teachers, and knew the mayor.
“It’s the micro-corrections that compound over time,” Rastegar says. “Details. Small things.”
Darin Klemchuck, Klemchuck LLP
On November 23, 2013, during an early morning workout, Darin Klemchuck, the managing partner of Klemchuck LLP, suffered a massive heart attack that should have killed him. But instead, he says, three miracles happened during this time that would forever change his outlook on life—and his business.
He was bench pressing and felt a pain in the middle of his chest. He assumed that he had just strained a pectoral muscle, and continued with his workout. The pain worsened, and he asked a trainer for some Aspirin before driving himself to the emergency room. It was discovered after a few EKGs that a piece of plaque had made its way through one of Klemchuck’s main arteries, creating a blockage that should have instantly blown up his heart. When a cardiac surgeon came onto the scene, he took one look at Klemchuck’s test results and said he was “going in—stat.”
The first miracle was that Klemchuck’s heart did not explode. The second miracle was the particular surgeon on call that day. As Klemchuck learned months later, not many other surgeons would have risked the very dangerous procedure. The third miracle was that the risky surgery was a success.
After this near-death experience, Klemchuck went through three phases of recovery: denial, which lasted for two weeks; irrational exuberance, which came after he came to terms with what had happened; and finally, the “I don’t want to blow my second chance at life” stage which, as Klemchuck explains, is thankfully ongoing.
Throughout everything, Klemchuck was given the gift of perspective that lead to making effective changes in his business. When was faced with the possibility of losing everything at his firm, he saw that he could either leave and forfeit it all, or stick with it and hopefully reach better days. This is when he realized the desire to cling to material things is the reason for most of his pain. “Pain comes from stuff,” Klemchuck says. “And if you let go of the desire for stuff, then pain will go away.”
Some of his partners approached him with the fact that others did not quite “get him.” Klemchuck says that this opened his eyes, and showed him that he had to let go in order to come to terms with who he really was. “I’d rather be me than having to be something else,” Klemchuck says.
Lea Ellermeier Nesbit, Natural Dental Implants Inc.
Lea Ellermeir Nesbit, co-founder and CEO of Natural Dental Implants, says she learned more about business and entrepreneurship while working on her stepfather’s ranch than she did while getting her MBA. Never the adventurous type, she was always more of a bookworm. However, she learned to step out of her comfort zone and now believes that there is no better way to get rid of a fear than to “just do something you are completely afraid of. And to even fail at it.”
From riding a horse, she learned that “stumbling people never fall,” which she applies to hiring practices. If someone is going to make it in the entrepreneurial world, they have to be ready to stumble and accept defeat because a lot of things have the potential to go wrong when launching a startup company.
Nesbit learned to “think twice before you shoot” when running the wells on the ranch. After realizing a muskrat had made itself at home inside one of the wells, she let her emotions get the best of her. She acted impulsively, shooting at the muskrat in the well. This, of course, caused a massive leak. Relating this back to business, Nesbit explains that bad things are bound to happen during a startup, and it’s easy to be reactionary without taking the time to think things through.
“To put out big fires one flame at a time,” was another lesson Nesbit learned during her time on the ranch. When a fire broke out on a neighboring property, Nesbit had to rush over in a truck with water to try and help out it out before it reached a stockpile of large haystacks. In a startup company, there are inevitably going to be big and scary situations, and leadership has to break down the issue and conquer it “one flame at a time,” in order to effectively control the mess.
Nesbit also learned that “sometimes riding the storm out is your only option.” Once she was mowing farmland when a storm cloud moved in quickly and began dropping golfball-sized pieces of hail. She huddled herself under the tractor because there was nowhere to go and nothing else to do. With startup companies, sometimes you have to “embrace the suck.” There are going to be days when you get beat up, and sometimes you just have to endure it in hopes that tomorrow will be better.