The founder of Askinosie Chocolate (Shawn Askinosie) joins us to share his journey to creating one of the world’s leading bean to bar chocolate factories in the world. As one of the most sought-after criminal defense attorneys in Missouri, Shawn Askinosie decided it was time retire from the world courtrooms, juries and litigation and move on to a world filled with producing high-quality chocolate and helping those in need in the process. We discuss the importance of doing meaningful work, finding your calling, how chocolate is made, The Backstreet Boys, being transparent with your team and the process he calls visioning.
NOTABLE QUOTABLE – “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.” ― Gibran, Kahlil Gibran (Legendary poet and philosopher)
FUN FACT – Ari Weinzweig is the founding partner of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, including Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Zingerman’s Creamery, and Zingerman’s Bakehouse
On today’s show, Sean Eskenazi, the founder of asking chocolate, joins us to share his journey to creating one of the world’s leading bean to bar chocolate factories as one of the most sought after criminal defense attorneys in Missouri. Sean Eskenazi decided it was time to retire from the world of courtrooms, juries and litigation, and to move on to a world filled with producing high quality chocolate and helping those in need in the process. During today’s show, we discussed the importance of doing meaningful work, finding your calling, how chocolate is made, the backstreet boys, and being transparent with your team and the process he calls vision.
Alright, ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to another mind-expanding edition of the thrive time business conferences show. On today’s show, we have the privilege of interviewing Sean because there’s no z there. Who’s the founder and CEO of asking, oh, see chocolate and the author of the new book, meaningful work, a quest to do great business, find your calling and feed your soul. Many, many years ago, Sean was a very successful defense attorney based in Missouri and he was the defense attorney of choice. Rumor has it for drug dealers and people who could really use a high quality defense attorney right about now and over time. Oh, I believe it took its toll on you and then Sean, you decided to leave the world of legal representation of a potential criminals and to start a massively successful chocolate company. Am I? Am I getting something wrong there, Mr. Shot,
you know, the thing I have to really thank you for is putting the word potential in front of criminal. I’ve been interviewed many times and people most often don’t do that, so thank you. Yes, there is this a presumption of innocence and yeah, I, I had to quit. I did it for 20 years. I loved it, loved the courtroom. It didn’t feel like work. I loved to my clients and just the. There’s just the whole thing and uh, and it, it finally told me my body emotionally, physically, spiritually, that I just couldn’t do it anymore. And that was a rough moment. Now I, Sean, this is Dr Z. I, um, I’m really kind of disappointed
that we don’t have a z sound and you know, your last name. I mean, we were really, we can make it. We were really, as we’re kicking your name back and forth, we were asking nosy. I mean then, and then of course you corrected us and it’s, it’s Kinda disappointing to be honest with you.
Here’s, here’s the thing, let’s see what we can do. We’d sell out. Of course we can do it, we can put back in it because when my grandfather came here from, he was a Jew in Ukraine and grew up in Argentina and when he got here, they changed it from Ashkenazi to ask an associate.
Oh, I feel so much better. You Go, okay. I feel because I really felt some business conferences bonding between us. They with disease sound. And so I, you know, the backstory, Dr Zellner names all of his companies. Somehow after a Z, so that’s a to z medical. It’s Dr. Z’s sleep center, Dr Zoellner and associates disease, 66 auto auction. You get the idea, the rocket z ranch, you know, he’s a very subliminal thing. It’s passive aggressive. He’ll be referring to, you know, I first heard about you, um, while I was listening to seth golden’s podcast, a Kimbo and he was talking about your business model and I would just like to start at the beginning. Where did you get the idea to go from? Okay, step one. I’ve been a sought after criminal defense attorney. I think step two, I should start a chocolate business. Where did you get this idea?
The, the space between step one and step two was about five years and it, it really was just this winding twisting search. And so it wasn’t automatic at all. And like I was saying a minute ago, I, I knew that I had to get out. Uh, I, I was kind of feeling it in my chest. It wasn’t a heart attack, but it kind of felt like one. And um, that went on. And so I, I had this simple prayer that I started to say every day and it went like this, dear God, please give me something else to do. And sometimes I would say once a day and sometimes I’d say at 20 times a day. And along with that I really started this search and that was, of course we still had, um, or the beginnings of, of the Google search engine was available to me, which created this paradox of choice.
Everything seemed available. And so I researched businesses, what business should I buy? What else should I do? What other area of practice of law can I start a business or buy one? And nothing was really inspiring me and, and nothing was, was felt like it did when I loved the, of law. And so this, it wasn’t this lifelong dream to have a chocolate factory. I didn’t have any hobbies besides work and it. And, and so I started to develop some hobbies. I bought a big green egg and then I bought another one and then I researched every single way to make stuff on it. And I did that. And then I started baking, then I started making chocolate desserts, and you know, this, as I said, this was this five year process during which I was so desperate to find something that it was really taking its toll on me emotionally.
I went on Lexapro at that time, antidepressant and, uh, went to see a psychologist and just a number of things because I was really despondent that, that wasn’t happening for me. And I’m sure many of your listeners can relate to this. When we love something, we love what we’re doing, then we don’t. And that’s a real problem, especially if you’d done it as long as I had, which was almost 20 years. And uh, I had this kind of light bulb moment that I think was really an answer to prayer that I should start a chocolate factory. And at that time, really no one was doing bean to bar chocolate. And within three months of that little light bulb moment I was in the Amazon, uh, studying how farmers can influence the flavor of chocolate by how they grow these coco beans.
Well, I want to get your take on this because you played in the NBA for 11 years. How did you know it was time to get out of the NBA? Did you, uh, hit your head on the toilet seat? Did you draw the flux capacitor and you thought I got to move on? Did you just not want to play anymore? What was going on? No, the body. Sean, how much for you was it the body speaking to you? Go and I just can’t sit here and pour over these cases anymore. How much of it was the mind? When did you, what was walk us through because I mean, you were a really, really skilled and sought after defense attorney.
I never lost a criminal jury trial. Uh, I built my reputation really in the defensive murder cases and it didn’t. Yes, it was stressful. But at the conclusion of one murder trial, which I detail in the book right before the end of the trial, I represented this woman. She probably didn’t weigh over a hundred and 10 pounds. I really believed in her case and it was coming down to the wire. We were getting ready to do closing arguments and I won’t go into all of the details, but what happened at that moment when I was explaining to her how the case was going to conclude we were going to win the case, um, the roles really dramatically reversed between protector and I’m protected and that was she, I, I started to kind of get emotional and the anteroom off the courtroom. I was explaining this to her tearful and she hugged me.
And as I reflected back on that moment, I realized that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. The advocate is the protector. The advocate is the one that builds the case, that builds the defense. The Cross examines that and the defendant, the client is the one that I’m trying to protect and advocate for. And when those roles reversed as dramatically as they did in that moment, I knew that I couldn’t do it anymore and I, I just knew it. And then I really started feeling it in my body. So I would go into court on some little misdemeanor case or maybe even a traffic ticket, which I normally didn’t handle in my chest would hurt. So my body was telling me it was time, it was time to move on.
Now my understanding is that now, and if I’m getting some of the facts that I guess if I think if we get these facts wrong, you, they wouldn’t be facts, they would just be my opinion. So this is my understanding of, of your empire here, Mr Shawn and I know that you haven’t built it to be an empire all about you. You’ve built your company to bless people into, uh, enrich the lives of other people. But my understanding is that you now have on your team around 15 employees and then you and your daughter Lauren, we’re able to last year with you, your daughter, the 15 team members. You guys were able to sell enough chocolate to provide 1 million school lunches and Tanzania and the Philippines. Were you guys do most of your work? Am I getting that wrong?
The the correction that I would make is that we have, we do have 16 employees and over the last eight years, so it’s not just in the one year, but in the last eight years we have started these fully sustainable school lunch programs in the Philippines, in Tanzania where the PTA of these little jungle schools and yes there are active pta. Is there make a little product that we sell so we don’t. It’s not by selling chocolate. It’s by selling a product that the PTA mix. So in Tanzania they make this beautiful rice that we sell. In the case of Philippines, they make a hot chocolate drink that we sell. And what’s cool about it about this is we were a for profit business. I am not a not for profit and so our idea is the messages that small business and we’re. We are the epitome of small business with as many employees as I was telling you and the messages that we.
We small business people can be a a social force for good in the world and we’re doing these, providing these school lunches with no donations. It’s all by the sale of those two products I was telling you about and we monitor the height, weight and school attendance of these kids and especially in the case of Tanzania when we started at a high school with a thousand kids, they were only eating one meal a day and the whole day and so we and we. This is in an area where we buy our cocoa beans and so we started these programs to really help the people in the village and do what we could for these children and these community development programs are continuing. Like right now, for instance, the farmers in Tanzania that we’ve been working with working with for so many years. One of their ideas that their vision points is that they want to have a preschool in their village and so we together with them are trying to build this preschool for 300 kids in their village and we hope within one year we will have raised the money to build the school and then the farmers will run it.
And so this is. These are the kinds of projects that we’re working on all the time.
That’s incredible, and you’re doing this with your family. That’s awesome. Your daughter, and I notice on your, on your website, I was doing a little doodle research that you did have a hobby. You kind of bounced over pretty quickly taking your daughter to backstreet boys concert man to go to what’s.
Oh please, I love I, I took her to backstreet boys and in sync. In fact, funny story. Um, she, um. Oh Man, I hope she’s not going to listen to this, but anyway, when my wife made me tell lauren that Santa didn’t exist and she, I took her upstairs in my office and I told her and she said, dad, does this mean that I’m not going to get backstage passes to the backstreet boys at the concert and Kansas City? And I said, yes, that that’s what this means. So I wrote a letter to the manager of the backstreet boys and sure enough they called me. The manager of the factory boys called me and said, we got your letter. We love this story. And so would you please bring your daughter to the concert in Kansas City? We have front row seats for you and we went to this concert and Aaj sang a solo to Lauren onstage.
I. Yeah. Backstreet boys. Well, you in sync. The whole thing.
Jersey. Share a vast knowledge, love and appreciation of perhaps the greatest musicians in American history. The backstreet boys and in sync. So Dr. Z dot. I know I’m going to play a game of name that tune a with our guest. Mr Sean, please do. I’m going to do is I’m going to play the song on the woodblock and you could tell me if you know what song it is. Here we go. And take a guess. Here we go. Ready? Ready? What song is it for? $5,000. Mega points doesn’t make it points. Take a take a guess. We’ll see what. We’ll say it one more time. More energy. More. I need more. I need more roadblocks. Come on anymore. More woodblock. Okay. Sean says he wants more cowbell on the track. Here we go. Exactly. Yeah.
Oh, you guys are killing me. That’s amazing. And what, what, what, what do you think you would guess? 5,000 mega points. I can’t. I don’t know. That’s every thought you’ve ever wrote. No. Quit playing games with my heart. I can’t believe you guys didn’t know that. The accuracy. Okay. We’ll continue down. Wow. So you, my understanding is you’ve actually met each and every person that you guys are buying the chocolate from, you know, uh, like, like Nestle’s, Hershey’s, chocolate companies. They don’t go out there and meet the farmers. They don’t go meet the people that are buying these beans from. Is that correct? Are you actually meeting the people you’re buying beans from?
Yes. And last, well I guess last month I, well I took local high school students to Tanzania as part of our chocolate university project and that trip was my 40th origin trips since I started the business. So every year I traveled to these farms, meet with the farmers, inspect our coming year crop of cocoa beans and this is part of what we call direct trade. And it’s a way for us to continue the relationship, uh, maintain quality of the cocoa bean, which is really going to find its way into the quality of the chocolate. We hope and then we pay them directly, so we’re cutting out middlemen and women who would otherwise be peeling off layers of money that the farmers should have in their pocket. We help them open business conferences bank accounts so we pay him directly. Then we go back the next year, bring our financial statements and we have translated them into whatever language they need.
So when I was in Tanzania, our financials, we’re in Swahili and we go over the financial statement with them, explain revenue and expenses and our profit share calculation and then we give them money. And um, this is, this is the way we do business and know Hershey and Nestle and other, uh, what I call big cocoa companies are not doing this. And in fairness to them, I think it might be challenging for them to travel and meet all the cocoa farmers. But I would also challenge them that some variation of this model would work for them because it would put more money in farmers’ pockets. And the thing that’s really hard for I think, some people to understand is people. I get this a lot. I mean, we’re producing a high quality chocolate bar. It’s not cheap. It’s $8, $10, $12 for a chocolate bar. And people are saying, well that’s a rip off. What? Why would I pay $10? Well, my, my point on this is that a snickers bar or whatever at the convenience store, that’s a dollar at the cash register. That is the rip off. Why? Because the farmers that grew the cocoa beans for those chocolate bars, more than likely came from west Africa were at today’s world market price for Coco. Those farmers are per capita earning less than a dollar a day,
less a dollar a day
and they are struggling to grow and harvest these coco beans. So these, the big cocoa companies that are selling us really inexpensive chocolate, that seems like a value. It isn’t a value because it’s on the backs of cocoa farmers who are in what is called extreme poverty.
It’s terrible. I want to, uh, I think it’s going to be a lot of challenging aspects to starting a chocolate factory. But I wanted to do cs. I wanted to write down, I wanted to read about the process of making a chocolate and I want to do just go through my 10 steps and Shannon wanted to see if you could kind of audit these steps to see if I understand the process because you had to learn this. I just wanna make sure that listeners understand this. So step one, you got to plant a cocoa tree or is it called a cookout tree?
Either one. Cocoa. Cacao.
Okay. Okay. Well we’ll say Coco, but it’s easier for me. Now step two, this tree’s going to grow and it has like a pod on it. And then inside that pod there’s like a sweet, sappy stuff that that’s white. And inside that you’ll find some seeds called beans. Am I? Am I correct? You are. Okay. Now step three, the cocoa beans must then be fermented inside of the pods in the sun. Is that, is that correct? Step three, no,
they’re the cocoa beans are taken out of the pod and they’re going to be fermented in a wooden box and turned every 24 hours and then dried in the sun. That’s right.
And now step four, these coco beans are then, I guess roasted as you just alluded to, they’re roasted. Yes. And in step five, the cocoa beans then must be shelled. Is that correct? Yes. And then you have to ground up these beads and a 3000 pound granite device known as a. is it as a mellon? Gore melon, Guam launcher, belonging I mispronouncing every way possible. Unbelievable. So can you repeat that one more time here? I’m learning Malaysia, Malaysia, or can you describe what this looks like too?
Yes, it’s a 6,000 pound, a 100 year old machine and it’s a granite or granted rollers that almost kind of looked like, um, the kitchen roller that you would have and, but they’re huge and they’re on a granite plate that’s turning. So these wheels are turning and they are grinding down these coco beans to very, very small particle size.
And then step seven, is it to be ground together for like 60 hours? Am I correct there? Yes. Paul, it sounds like one of your practices under Nolan Richardson there at the 60 hours of just grinding. No, and it was so fast. Five minutes. Okay. All right. Now step. Now step eight there. So sweeteners then added to the cocoa. Am I correct? Yep. Organic sugar. Organic sugar. Okay. Now step nine. Then this mixture is tempered. What does that mean to, to temper the mixture.
It would be like tempering glassware steel, so what we’re trying to do is bind together the cocoa butter molecules and the cocoa molecules inside the cocoa bean that’s now been crushed and turn it into liquid. So we’re. We’re going to bring the temperature up a little bit. Then we’re going to bring it down. And what that does, the effect of that is it creates a very stable chocolate bar that’s shiny a that snaps and you’ve seen chocolate bars in where the chocolate bar has gone, what we say out of temper and it looks kind of white, kind of Ashen and the like. If you leave chocolate in your car and it gets hot and then you put it inside your house and it’s white. That’s what happens when it goes out of temper, but yes, that’s what we do.
And then the final step is you cut that thing into, into bars, all of these steps. What was the hardest part for you to master or was the whole thing just difficult?
Well, the first step, well there’s the zero step before your first step and that is find farmers who are growing these trees and that is a real challenge even with the Internet. And I’ve been doing this now for almost 12 years and I would say that step of finding and maintaining those relationships with farmers and then getting the cocoa beans. Here we are, I’m the importer of record, one of the few chocolate makers in America who actually important the cocoa beans ourselves. And that is a real challenge. But I would say technically once we get the beans here, the step that we talked about tempering the chocolate is the most technically difficult thing to do because we’re not adding other ingredients that would aid in that process. And when I was doing this at home or really at my law office secretaries and paralegals would help me make chocolate and you know, a one pound batch.
My wife kicked me out of the kitchen pretty quickly on this project because it’s, it’s, it’s not a very tidy a endeavor and so taking in, it’s just like anything. I mean you can imagine it when you scale that up to 200 pounds, it’s, it’s night and day. There’s an, there’s an. It’s not even close to technically the same or the same equipment and I had to learn that by doing and by opening my checkbook and spending a lot of money to fix the problem. It was the thing I would say that almost brought us down. I’d already quit my law practice. I bought this building, I bought equipment, hired employees, and I couldn’t temporary the chocolate and I spent four months in about a 20 square foot space trying to figure it out and people weren’t in America. There are only two or three of us starting this. At the same time. We weren’t really talking to each other and the people in Europe who were doing it wouldn’t talk. It’s very secretive. So that was a real challenging time.
Were you dealing with a French people over there in Europe or what kind of people are really tight lipped about this process? The
French and the Italians, I would say,
and I. I suspect that from the French I was. Yeah, no doubt. No doubt. Hey Shawn, I’m senior looking on your business conferences website and you’ve got some really interesting sounding candy bars, chocolate bars. I guess your chocolate bars. A few. First of all, what’s your personal favorite and what’s your number one seller?
Our number one seller right now is our devout dark milk chocolate, which is. I’m a 61 percent dark chocolate. I get those beans from Duval Philippines and it has goat’s milk in it and a little bit of a Florida Sell Sea salt. That’s our number one seller. I think it’s maybe because it’s kind of a gateway chocolate for those who are interested in exploring darker chocolates and so it’s really, I think kind of a crowd pleaser. I believe that that bar will be overtaken by the end of the year by a new chocolate bar that we came out with a couple of months ago and it’s coconut milk, so coconut milk, dark chocolate, and that is a really smooth bar. It’s really becoming a popular one and I think that will overtake it. And then we’re coming out with a new bar tomorrow, literally tomorrow. It might be my favorite bar that we’ve ever made. In fact, on Friday I went to the machine, I went over to the machine, got a bunch of plastic spoons, and had like four or five spoonfuls of this stuff right out of the machine. Uh, yeah.
Just tell us you’re gonna get Libby Hagen. What’s, what’s in it? This just deon this, Justin. Just peppermint
dark chocolate. And it reminds me of those kind of like those round peppermint after dinner things. And I had him as a kid. They bring them to the table, you know, at a fancy little restaurant or something. And even though it doesn’t have milk or cream in it like that, but if that’s what it tastes like and it is, it has a little bit of cardamom in it and it’s, oh my gosh,
it is. It’s really, really good. I love it. My understanding is because you have so much downtime, you’ve really decided to why it’s not like it’s, it takes enough work to do a totally changed the chocolate industry. You also sat down to write a new book called meaningful work, a quest to do great business. Find your calling and feed your soul. Can I ask you what inspired you to write this book?
The, the thing that inspired me was, well, first off people would say, oh, you should write a book. And I just, I really wasn’t. I didn’t, I didn’t think that I had anything to say. And I, I’ve, I’ve felt like I was busy trying to live it out and I just didn’t. Maybe it was, I didn’t have the confidence that I had anything to say. But, um, one thing led to another and I felt, um, maybe empowered kind of, if you will, to take some of the stories that helped me find my passion, find my vocation and calling and I thought, you know, if I could tell these stories in a way that other people might be able to see themselves and not the Sean’s a hero story, then maybe I do have something to say, can I, can I be, as I say in the book and quoting a theologian that I quote in the book, Can I be a sign not a solution so that other people might read the book entrepreneurs or people who want to start something and say, you know, I see some, I see some things here that remind me of myself and what can I do?
Are there some steps that I can follow to perhaps find my calling? And then how can I translate that into my business life? If I can do that, then I’ve succeeded in that. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Wait, the book in Chapter One of, of your book, uh, you titled this chapter, find meaning in your work or else it might just kill you. Uh, to me that seems like a pretty intense statement. But, uh, as I was perusing the book, it sounds like you mean it. Can you share with us about chapter one and what this chapter is all about?
The, the math people say that we spend about 80,000 hours at work on average and if we, if we don’t find a way to be inspired by our work to be engaged in our work and to really believe it, to be meaningful and with the opportunity to also believe that it’s bigger than just us, then I think it creates a sort of, um, well not in everyone but in many people and it certainly did in me. It creates a corrosion, a sort of erosion of our emotional and spiritual and in my case, physical wellbeing. And I think it’s a very, very important topic for us to consider in our culture today. And that is how can we do work that gives us meaning, that gives us purpose. And when you don’t, when you want that and you don’t have it. And I hear now I’m, you know, I get emails from people around the country and it, it is, it’s a, it’s destructive.
And it, I think it challenges our relationships with our friends and family and it, it, it can wind its way into our lives in such a way that will all will seem lost, I think. And so in my case, I didn’t have a heart attack like I said earlier, but I felt like I was, I felt hopeless because, and I’m sure many of your listeners can relate. I was an am a driven, motivated person and for us, for us, um, who require that in life. You know, we, we can’t just spend our lives aimlessly adrift and an infinite void. We can’t do it. It’s too much for us. It’ll, it will kill us in one way or another.
You know, the word vocation comes from the Latin word. That means your calling, as you referred to earlier, you’re calling in chapter two of the book. You talk about how you need to develop a business vocation or that, that if you don’t do that, it might just kill your business. So for all the self employed people out there, if you don’t feel called you’re, you’re suggesting that it might just kill your business. Well, what do you mean by that?
What I mean is, uh, and I, I quote poet, philosopher, Kahlil Gibran and the book, and one of the things I love that he says is, if we bake a bread within difference, we bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And it’s true whether we’re baking bread, making chocolate, hosting a podcast, writing books. If we, if we or our employees are baking the bread with indifference, we, we will eventually have product and products and services that are low quality of low benefit. And, and we so, so we have to do it. We, we must find a way for the bread bakers to make this bread with engagement and with care and enthusiasm and energy. And what’s happening is Gallup says that two thirds of American workers are not engaged in their work. Meaning, they don’t care about it and this is not new news. So for the sake of our business conferences economy, for the sake of our companies, we must find a way to engage people in work and I’m suggesting just, you know, a few ways than in the stories that we tell in the book and how we’ve modeled our business.
Now, if, when you talk about, um, do you know people being disengaged at work just to pile on and there’s a forbes article that came out that said it’s called a 70 percent of Americans hate their jobs. A Gallup has a study that shows two out of three people are disengaged, that all the stats are there. And I will put those on the show notes. So all the readers can a very, all the listeners can verify that. What we’re saying is that just an opinion, I mean the statistics are alarming at best, but in chapter three of your book, you talk about asking yourself the question, how much is enough? How much is enough? What, what do you mean by that?
The if we as entrepreneurs can really people as people, if we can begin our analysis of a project or a company with this question of how much is enough and it’s not going to be a perfect answer and it will be a moving target, but if we can do that, then I think we go a long way in sort of bending this idea of modern culture which says grow at all costs. We must grow and we must have more. And the bottom line is more isn’t enough. It never will be. And so when we have, as I outlined in the book and when when we have a website in this country dedicated to track how many people are dying on black Friday by being trampled to death to go into fill in the blank store to get a deal. We were. There’s a problem. There is a big problem there.
And so I get this idea from the rule of benedict, which I talk about in the book. The rule of benedict is a 1500 year old document that governs and monit benedictine monasteries around the world and they asked the monastery. So the the brewery monastery in Belgium for example, you know, they’re asking the question how, how much beer do we need to brew in order to be sufficient, how much is enough? So that’s, that’s what I want to incorporate into my business. Again, not in a perfect way, but in a way to say how much do we need in order to do the things that we want to do and if we can ask just some semblance of that question at the outset of our projects and our plans, then it will really, really help us and we gained this idea of sufficiency and I think that’s a place that we’re. We will, we’re either going to choose to land there or will be forced to land there. I think. And so I think it even applies to everything from how many instagram likes you think you need a, how many are sufficient, how many shares are sufficient? And if we could just set that in the beginning, what we’re going to save ourselves a lot of heartache. I think
I want to get Dr [inaudible] take on this in just a minute. Just to give you a background or for the westerners who are. Oh, by the way, as of, as of today, Mr Sean, as far as at the time of this recording, we just hit number one on itunes and all categories. So there’s congratulate hundreds of thousands of people listening and uh, Dr z and I, between the two of us, we built 13 multimillion dollar businesses, but we’ve also, uh, helped, uh, you know, raise. We have eight kids between the two of us. Ah, two different mothers there. But, and so I think that question, is there nothing to see? I’d love for you to share because the question, the question is posed on chapter three of Shawn’s book, how much is enough? And a lot of people don’t know this about you, Dr z. But when you were in your late thirties, I’m 37 now, so you’re probably 39 slash 40. Um, you had an opportunity to expand and you’ve always had many opportunities to expand your optometry clinic into multiple states. Many people presented you with an opportunity. He said, hey, you’re, you’re, you’re clearly the dominant optometrist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Perhaps you should open up one in Dallas or maybe come join forces and open up one in Kansas City. Can you explain your process for asking yourself how much was enough and when you knew it was time to at that season in your life to not expand even though you could have.
Well, mine was kind of a combination of things at work, life balance and you know, that’s why I did other businesses within Tulsa because I didn’t have to travel. And so my kids were young and it was very important to, uh, to be the best father that I could be. Um, and consequently I’ve got three great children, now I’m married and uh, two of them expecting my second and third grandchild on the way, you know, kind of a big deal and they’re all doing fantastic and I’ve got great relationships with which with each one. And that was very purposeful. You know, I see so many times that people as they expand and as they grow outside their area, then the travel’s involved and then you’re away from home. And as much as you are home, when you’re away from home for whatever reason, you know, you had cost you, it costs you two coupons at Casa Kasha, those moments and so with your family. So for me it was kind of purposeful in that regard as far as, um, you know, wanted to grow my footprint, clay. And that’s why I did the Ottawa and that’s what I did. The sleep center, that’s why I did know all the other businesses that I have because I could stay right here in town and, and kind of leverage them against each other to, you know, my and whatnot. But um, that’s why I chose not to.
Nope. No, Sean, this is the part of the interview where it’s going to get weird. And I feel like if you want to indicate that you’re not happy with the question, you just hang up and we’ll pick up on that subtle cue. Okay. So I’m going to ask you. I’m going to, I’m going to ask you a question, but I’m going to have to be the devil’s advocate because some of the stuff you talk about I think flies in the face of conventional, the conventional wisdom, which is why I think actually your your, your book, meaningful work might just be a book that’s everyone needs to read because it goes against conventional wisdom, Zhi, so we have the risk of offending. So here we go. Open book management. You have this thing that you use called open book management where the members of your team are aware of the profitability or the lack there of and it is super transparent and there’s gotta be somebody listening right now who says, are you freaking kidding me? There was no freaking way. This is absolutely impossible. He talk to me. Why have you decided to do open book management? Oh, I love this and I love that question. I started using open book management
pro man almost 20 years ago. So I was doing this in my law firm. Oh Wow. And, and so I’ve done this in a service company and now in a manufacturing company. And the idea is to teach financial literacy. What does cash flow mean? Um, what is, what is debt reduction look like? And so when we teach this stuff and we keep track and we keep score and then we share in the outcome this, everybody has this sense that we’re pulling in the same direction and not only do they feel like we’re, we’re, we’re pulling in the same direction, but that they’re actually going to be compensated for when we’re doing well. And you know, you would think for those people who say, you know, I can’t freaking believe this, when things aren’t so great when you’re having a tough time, that is, that, that’s hard news to deliver.
But the great thing about it is it lets the people know who work for you, uh, maybe why they’re not getting a bonus or why raises, haven’t been as forthcoming as they were the year before. And it just, it, it really, I think, gives people a true sense of teamwork. It’s not fake stuff. They’re not, you know, being given news that only the CEO wants them to hear. It’s the truth. And this has been a Prac I’ve, like I said, I have literally followed this for 20 years and it feels better as a leader to be really open about this. And I’ve, of course for those people who want to learn more about it, I think that a Zingerman’s I’m in Ann Arbor, Michigan is a real, a place to really learn about this, um, and the great game of business as a place to learn about it and it can apply to any kind of business.
And there are so many benefits to this. But transparency is the watchword of the day, right? I mean, everybody’s talking about it. And with the advent of new, newer and newer technologies and transparency is really becoming, not just, um, sort of a fad, but something that’s necessary to do business. And what I decided to do when I started the chocolate business is I thought to myself, can we take this notion of open book management upstream one notch to the supplier? In our case, the farmer. And as I was describing earlier, can we share our financials with them? Can we practice open book management with a supplier? And this could have this, this is, I mean anyone can do this, um, and it’s, it’s not hard. And when we this, the relationships with our suppliers have truly deepened because of our transparency with them in fact were not only transparent with the farmers, but last year we published on our website what we’ve paid farmers and every single bean transaction for the last 12 years while we paid them, how that compared to the world market price, how much we profit shared with them and we just, we didn’t put in some kind of fancy infograph or wherever we put the numbers in an excel spreadsheet and then we had those audited and that is, it’s a way for us to build trust with our customers too.
So it kind of closes the circle between farmers and our customers who enjoy the chocolate.
Does that make sense? Time out, time out, time out, time out. There was a whistle that’s a yellow flag flag on the play. Did you, are you sharing every line item? Every little minutia. I mean like let’s say for example, a guy’s driving down as he’s driving a truck. He’s driving is something down the road here and he’s listening to this going and I own a business and I’ve got 50 employees and some of them are management, some of them are just hourly people that kind of, you know, turn over here and there and there. You sit down with every single year you’re saying to sit down with every single one of them and share with them every line item. Wow, where’s that?
Well, we, we share with them. We look, for instance, the first question that everybody asks about this and when they freak out is they say, you mean every employee is going to know what every other employee makes? No. So we put a labor line and we put a. We consolidate all of our labor line. We do it where it makes sense and so, but the, the, the basic concept of, of detailing revenue, what all the channels of revenue are, how they’re performing and our cost of good sold, what that is, how that’s performing, what our gross profits are, what our administrative overhead costs are. Those fixed expenses, new capital investments that we’re considering making. All of that. We, it all goes into this open book management discussion with employees and then in this case now with farmers.
Yeah. Do they also see your net profits? Yes. So they know how much you make. They know what our net profit is of course, and then you have different time. I’m not sure if you own all the stock or how you did this distribution, but does that ever set up any jealousies and does that ever set up any.
No, because in our case, I mean they see, they see what net profit is, but they also understand that, I mean in, in, in my case, we’re profit sharing with farmers. They see what that is. Um, and they see what our capital investments are to maintain equipment to buy air conditioning systems and all that kind of stuff. It really doesn’t set up, um, jealousy. And the thing I would encourage people who are thinking, even thinking about this is that it can be, this can be customized in a way that makes sense for your business conferences and it can be rolled out in a way that makes sense for how you want to roll it out. But it’s, it’s, it’s easy to do, it takes some time. And as I said, there are resources available at Zingerman’s dot com. Any book that’s been written by Ari Weinzweig, the Co founder of Zingerman’s, he teaches open book management or the great game of business, um, which is they teach seminars every week on how companies and businesses can roll out. I’m an open book management system.
Sean, I think you just blew somebody’s mine out there. I think somebody’s mind has as, as blown off.
So I’m going to need just a little bit more, a cow bell to rally the troops here. That’s incredible. Okay. So let’s continue now. So you and chapter four of your book, you, you’re talking a little bit about this concept called the essentials to success that the chapter title is these essentials to success. Uh, and for anybody out there who’s thinking about, there’s a couple people say there’s probably thousands of people right now on the fence or go going, I might go without random things I don’t need to buy at a convenience store this month. Maybe so that I can free up the 19 to $25 needed to buy meaningful work, a quest to do great business, find your calling and feed your soul. What is chapter four all about essentials to success.
Chapter four is outlining this. It’s outlining our story of direct trade with our suppliers, what it looks like, how we developed it, how we use it to this day. And so what I’m trying to do in that chapter is say to business people, entrepreneurs who are, who are reading this, are there threads that you can pull from this idea of direct trade to incorporate in your own business. So for example, um, what we’re doing is we’re decreasing or minimizing the layers of middlemen and women between us and the supplier and we call that direct trade are, are there ways that you might incorporate that into your business? And also therefore have increased traceability in your supply chain and what will it do for you? What are the benefits? Will it improve your quality? I say yes. If you have this opportunity to get closer to your supply chain, maybe not as close as we are, but there there are ways that this can be done in many kinds of businesses and if you can do that, I think that that you have a chance to improve quality.
The other thing that it does is if you have developed, if you’ve developed a business vocation of business calling, we’re employees in your company, have the opportunity to engage and to engage in a way that is meaningful. Then you might be finding people in your supply chain who are who are vulnerable, and I’m not saying that everybody’s going to be a chocolate maker or a coffee roaster in that every person that they’re going to interact with his brother vulnerable, but what I’m suggesting is is that when you have a direct to consumer business or when you’ve diminished the the supply chain, middlemen and women such that you’re closer to them. Then you also have a better idea of what they might need and where are those vulnerable and weak spots are where people, actual human beings might need. You might need your service and when you’re a company can have an opportunity for community development and relationship building in your supply chain. Then it’s not just about profit. It’s not even necessarily only about improved quality. It’s about human connection. It’s about the opportunity to to believe that this is bigger than you, that someone needs you and you’re making a difference and it doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t have to be big. It has to be human connection.
There are, you know what? I hope your chocolate bars taste really good because now I want to go out and buy a bunch of them all. After talking to you, hearing your story, I hope they tell me they taste just awesome because now I want to buy some.
Well, we’re winning awards all over the world. We just went to international chocolate awards and now the competition is pretty stiff because I have a lot of people around the world, you know, that are doing what we’re doing, but it’s, we laser focus on quality at the same time, focusing on this notion of profit sharing and community development and building relationship
help you. Uh, uh, when, as a, as an avid patriots fan, I’ve decided to film the competition illegally to give my player steroids, all of their equipment, their packaging. We’re trying to help you here, the Patriots nation. Okay. Now, uh, for anybody listening out there, we have a lot of listeners. Everyone out there knows I’m a huge bill bellacheck fan. We have a lot of listeners from the northeast who, the moment he started talking about open books, they’re going, are you freaking kidding me? I unbelief playbook, which I think you take the stance that I think a lot of our superintendents, northeastern friends would, would, would take social entrepreneurship. You actually said, Shawn, and correct me if I’m wrong, you said you want to ban the word social entrepreneurship. Now that is a hot take. Wow. Talk to us about that, kind of feisty,
this idea that the notion of social entrepreneurship I think connotes an elite Ism. It’s an us and them and it’s this idea of bearded hipsters from Brooklyn that are, you know, the purveyors of this new thing of social entrepreneurship in business, doing good or handing out shoes to kids who need them and you know what? Social Entrepreneurship, social business, it’s good business. That’s just what. That’s what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s just good business. So the auto parts shop or the or any, any of our small businesses, they’re in our neighborhoods that are in your neighborhood and Tulsa. These, these are businesses that are rolling up their sleeves. They’re. They are helping solve social problems in our communities. They’re helping pts, they’re helping schools there and that that is good business and I think we need to remove this kind of notion that, oh, well you’re not a social entrepreneur because it’s just wrong.
It’s wrong. And I will. I be. What’s happened is marketing has decided that we’re gonna create this divide between us and them and I, I think it’s. I think it’s wrong and the reason is because if we can, if we can remove this from our thought, then I think there’s a greater opportunity for businesses to come together in the decades ahead and really solve huge, almost insurmountable social problems at home and around the world because I think business and and the new face of capitalism has a place to do this and we’re, we’re. In fact, we have to do it
now. There are two final concepts I want to get your take on and I’d like to kind of end the show with an up, so I’m gonna take it down just a little bit just because you and I share and the fact that we were old enough to remember our dad’s slowly dying. You know your dad died from lung cancer. I’ve, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve, if I’m correct. When you were 14 years old, how did that experience that? How did that impact your life?
It impacted my life in, in great ways that are, that I, that I still feel to this day, to this moment, to right now does having this conversation. And my dad was a lawyer like me. He was my hero. He physically fit. He was a marine, had been a marine, and uh, we didn’t have hospice in my town at that time and I was the oldest and my mom really couldn’t bring herself to give my dad these pain shots because he would had all these surgeries from the cancer spreading throughout his body. And he was in pain. So I did it. I learned how to do that when I was 13 and 14. And to make matters worse, uh, the church came, the church people came over and they would speak in tongues and it kind of freaked me out and they would lay hands on him.
And the leader of that group said to me, Sean, don’t ever talk to your dad about death because if you do, it’ll be a sign of doubt and he won’t be healed. So every time my dad tried to talk to him, I pushed him away. And I’d say, Dad, you know, don’t do that, or you won’t live. And you know, clay, I remember when he was at home when he died and that the cancer, it went to his brain and he had a stroke. And I was with him. I was right there. I can tell you everything about that, the room, what he said, what I said, and it was a long time ago and it was the most desperate moment of my life when he died. I begged God out loud, please don’t let him die. Please let him live. And he died. And so in effect, it effected me in a way that I, I said to myself, well, I’m just, I’m gonna.
Prove to myself that I can be somebody even though this happened to me. And so I went on this overachieving rampage for the next 25 years to win everything, to do everything, to accomplish everything. And that’s why ultimately that wasn’t enough to fill the hole. And then I started a grief center in Springfield, Missouri with a friend of mine. Um, we cofounded lost and found Grief Center for children, uh, 18 years ago and we’ve served thousands of kids and families who have experienced the death of a parent or sibling. And here’s the way I think it affected me. And I know we don’t really have time to go into the story about how it led to chocolate. But here’s the way I think it affected me in my, on my path, and even to this day. And that’s this, that poet philosopher I mentioned earlier, Khalila Gibran also said that our greatest joy in life is our sorrow unmasked.
And I believe that to the core of my being. And so what that means is that if we can take some time and explore the great sorrow of our life and really mine the depths of our broken hearts, then we’re going to find the opportunity for great joy. And some listeners may think, well, how could that be? This is what I’m saying is this is a mystery. It is a mystery of how great joy can come from such sorrow. And it did for me. And it does. And it remains that way. And so, and you and I am sure clay, if we had a chance to, to talk about this, I, I’m, I know that you know what I’m talking about and the listeners who have experienced heartbreak and it doesn’t have to be your dad dying. It can be any, any kind of heartbreak that we, you and I, we speak a language called grief and, and we didn’t choose it, but we speak it.
And so I say, I don’t want to fix it to these kids. I still, I still facilitate a teen group lost and found every other week I work with teenagers who’ve experienced the death of a parent or sibling. And I say, you know what, I, I don’t want to fix it. I can’t fix it. But what we can do is we can learn how to become fluent in this language of grief and brokenheartedness and it will open up great possibilities in our lives to connect with people on a level that would have never otherwise been possible. It’s called compassion. Um, it’s human connection and it’s a way for us, I believe, ultimately discover our true self. That’s what this is all about. Can we, can we discover our true self, our soul, as God created us to be and whether it’s in business or just our personal lives and those are all mixed together. That’s I think, at least for me, that’s my vocation, my calling.
Now, my final question I have here because I want to end the show with, with an up up, up, and that was it. I appreciate the encouragement. By the way, that does. I. Both of us have seen our father’s literally physically pass in front of us and that’s something that I know thousands of our listeners can relate to and that was so encouraging. I’m visioning. You talk about visioning. It’s a, it’s a verb for you. The word vision to some people’s, a noun word visioning is, is a verb for you. It’s an action oriented concept. Can you teach our listeners visioning as we wrap up today’s interview?
Visioning is this concept that I learned from Ari Weinzweig, the Co founder of Zingerman’s. He writes about it and all of his books. He’s been my mentor on this. It’s a tool that we use to help businesses, people, churches, nonprofits, um, figure out what their dream is and we like to go long term. So in some cases, like with our farmer group in Tanzania, these are very, very poor farmers, 60 of them in this cooperative, and we help them with their 10 year vision of greatness. The idea is to begin, and I talk about this in the book, to begin thinking about all of your business conferences accomplishments, the prouds as we call them, write them down. It gets you in this mindset of the things that you can do. And then we asked people to write in the present tense 10 years in the future. So what that would look like is we would say, you know, what our date is today, but 10 years ahead in the year, 20, 28, what are we doing?
What can we see and feel and touch and hear and how that relates to our business, our hopes and dreams or, and this is, this is visioning and it’s a very powerful tool because it’s not a strategic plan. It’s not bullet points in an outline. It’s a story with narrative, with detail, with beauty and emotion, and once we’ve come up with this vision, then we create the strategic plan, those executable to help us create the action points to make it come true. I’ve seen it happen in Tanzania. We do it with middle school students in this remote village in Tanzania. We do it in my company here. We do it with nonprofits. It’s something that really, really works and it’s um, it’s an amazing business tool and life skills tool.
A Z. I’m not going to say that the listeners out there who do, who, who decide not buy a copy
of meaningful work, a quest to do great business, find your calling and feed your soul are throwing their lives away. But I couldn’t. I can’t say I could strongly suggest that if you don’t pick up a copy of this book, you may be missing out on some good stuff. I can’t go as far as to threaten you and say, you better do it or I’m going to come home and come find you here. You’re here. Good parenting is done this way. Okay, clay, you don’t, you know you’re going to give your children choices and I’m not suggesting that the thrive nations are. You would never suggest that. We never suggest that, but taking a page from good parenting, you give them choices and here’s the choices I would give the thrive nation. This just it. You could either buy the book or three chocolate bars off their website.
There we go. So I’ve got enough books. I really don’t want to. I got enough out of this. I’m inspired enough out of this podcast, you know, I’m, I’m going to more of a podcast listener than a book reader, but I do like chocolate. So does yours say. So we were saying, listen, you can either buy the book. That’s amazing. You’re a benevolent or three candy bars. You’re a benevolent dictator. Now, Sean, what’s the best place for people to, to buy your book? Do you want to go direct to your website? You don’t go into Amazon. Where do you want people to go?
Probably Amazon is the best way. Amazon or Barnes and noble and that’s the best way they can buy it from our website, but that’s probably the best way to go over. Go over your website slowly and a couple of times. For our listeners, it’s asking Osi.com, a s, K I n o s I e and then I have a little blog that I write at Sean [inaudible] Dot Com. I write about some of these things that we’ve been talking about today and and of course our company is on the social media channels, facebook and Instagram, that sort of thing. Spell that website one more time. Sure. His K I n o s I e.
thank you very much. And Sean is s h a w n correct? It is. Okay, good. Just show me like to end every show with a boom and around here at stands for big, overwhelming optimistic momentum because we believe that’s what it takes to start a successful company. And so we’d like to do a countdown when we say three, two, one and then we deliver the. Boom. You’re ready for the boat? I’m always ready for the book. Okay, here we go. Here we go. Three, two, one. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Echo. Ever.