Lunch With D CEO: Mark ‘Bouncer’ Schiro

The CEO of Stream Energy believes in the power of relationships.

Mark “Bouncer” Schiro went 10 years without watching a football game. This, despite growing up with the sport and playing linebacker for four years at Oklahoma State in the 1980s. He loves the game—but he couldn’t bring himself to watch. It was just too painful.

See, he was a star in high school, in Houston, and was all set to letter all four years of college. But he hurt his knee his freshman year—he was tackled while running out of bounds after an interception in a scrimmage. It took him years to heal and work his way back up the depth chart. Then there was a coaching change, and he had to start all over again. By then, Bouncer—an appropriate nickname, acquired as an infant—already had his degree and was working on an MBA. So he decided to walk away from the game and go into the family construction business.

That is how Schiro started his second life, as a businessman, with the passion of a disappointed linebacker who never got the chance he’d earned. 

Today, he’s the CEO of Stream Energy, one of the largest, most successful direct-sales, or multi-level marketing, companies in the world. In 10 years, operating only in deregulated markets, using only this social form of advertising, the company has managed to switch more than 1.6 million electric bills. Stream has also been battling a lawsuit for more than five years, alleging that the company is a pyramid scheme.

When I met Schiro for lunch at the Del Frisco’s Grille in Uptown, that was the first thing we discussed. We dined in the quiet second-floor area, where he ordered an Asian Tuna Salad and I opted for a shaved steak sandwich. 

Schiro makes a disclaimer—“it’s under litigation,” he says of the lawsuit, shaking his head—then proceeds to outline, repeatedly, all the reasons his company is not a pyramid or Ponzi scheme. This can’t be the best part of anyone’s job—explaining how a company that does $800 million in annual revenue isn’t committing fraud—but Schiro does it often, and with tenacity.

Ultimately, he says, it boils down to this: “It’s a real product.” Stream customers power their homes with electricity the same way their neighbors do. “It’s the same lines,” he says. “The same generators. We just want the bill. We’re just asking for the marketing money.”

Stream, he says, is nothing like the companies that sell what he calls, “lotions, potions, and pills.” Associates at Stream start by paying a one-time fee of $329. They also have the option to pay $25 a month for a website. “I’m not asking you to buy $1,000 worth of product or to auto-ship $200 of crap every month,” he says. “We have a product that people use every day.”

The way he sees it, energy bills are too complicated for traditional marketing. He says sitting down with someone you know and trust is the only way to figure things out.

“Although Matthew McConaughey for Reliant is great, he can’t teach you how to switch your bill,” Schiro says. “He might introduce the idea of switching, but you’re sitting there wondering if your lights will turn on.”

“I’m not asking you to buy $1,000 worth of product or to auto-ship $200 of crap every month,” Schiro says.

He explains that the $300 million his company has paid to associates over the last 10 years would have otherwise been spent on TV ads or billboards. He’d rather give it to his sales team. “You go to your mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends,” he says. “You sell energy to a couple of them, and teach a few of them to do the same.” 

Schiro says the company is “powered by relationships.” It’s a clever marketing tag that happens to be true. Schiro’s convincing (and exhausting) arguments are a testament. He might talk fast—he does some auctioneer work for charities on the side—but his emotions resonate.

Relationships are what eventually brought him back to football, too. Some of his former teammates went on to play professionally or coach. And some have invited Schiro and his family to the locker room. He has three sons, and he wanted to share this part of his life with them.

At one point during our lunch, when a plate slipped off the waiter’s tray, Schiro caught it out of the air, averting disaster—and proving he’s still got some of the instincts that made him so successful on the gridiron.  

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