Mike Agugliaro, “Business Warrior,” likes to deliver lectures with a replica helmet from the movie Gladiator on a desk behind him. But to Agugliaro — motivational speaker, martial artist, and owner of Gold Medal Service in East Brunswick — being a warrior isn’t about fighting external enemies, but internal ones.
“What I have found out by working with business owners over the past six years is that when business owners started their businesses they might have been 18, 19, 23, alive and driven, and not afraid,” he said. “But along the way, as they grow their businesses, they might have problems with hiring or with growing. They hit roadblocks, get married, have babies, and slowly go from these empowered Spartans, these young people who are not afraid of anything, to becoming so paralyzed about what’s going to happen by their decisions that they can’t grow.”
Agugliaro’s “CEO Fast Track Academy” will take place Tuesday through Friday, February 2 through 5, at the Gold Medal Service Center facility on Cotters Lane, where Agugliaro said he was able to overcome mental roadblocks and build a $28 million-a-year service business. The four-day “boot camp” style workshop will include a speech by Michael Michalowicz, former columnist for the Wall Street Journal’s small business section. The listed fee: $7,500 (Agugliaro did not immediately return a call asking to explain that fee).Visit www.ceowarrior.com for registration details.
Agugliaro said he has drawn on his own experiences in business to create his workshops, which he runs via his training company, CEO Warrior. He said he and his business partner, Rob Zadotti, fell into a rut 10 years into running Gold Medal. “The first 10 years we did it completely wrong and we made every mistake we could,” he said.
He was about ready to give up on the company completely, which would have been a major blow. Agugliaro grew up in East Brunswick where his father was a mason and his mother was a homemaker. He went to vocational school where he learned that his father’s trade was not for him. “I learned that I didn’t want to be a mason carrying bricks and blocks and mixing cement,” he said. Instead, he was drawn to electrical work. “Electricity was scary and there was this thrill of like, if you do it wrong, it would kill you,” he said.
To fail in the electricity business would mean giving up the only trade he had known. But in addition to being an electrician, Agugliaro is a longtime martial arts instructor, teaching karate, jujitsu, Japanese swordfighting, and several other techniques. He drew upon the self discipline of these arts to find a new way forward. He also did something that any karate student does: he sought out the experts in his field and learned from them. “I started attending all the gurus out there,” he said, including the Disney Institute and a workshop hosted by Zappos.
Agugliaro developed a philosophy of business success drawing on these gurus, his kung fu training, and his own experience. “The connection between the CEO/owner and the warrior concept is getting to the point where you’re no longer afraid to make big, bold, tough decisions,” he said. “Just like in martial arts, you are never done learning. Mastery is not an end; mastery is just a new beginning.”
The seminars focus not just on skills and handling various business situations, but on “erasing limiting beliefs” that hold back good problem solving. He also seeks to instill in business people the self discipline of martial arts training. “I teach focus, discipline, and being able to think in different ways, because in martial arts, you have to think three steps ahead, and in business, you have to think three steps ahead too.”
Another key part of martial arts is respect, and he hopes that his students will integrate this into their business lives as well. “The respect you give is the respect you get back in return,” he says.
While the imagery of warfare may be aggressive in nature, the way Agugliaro runs Gold Medal is anything but. He says the company culture there is more like laid back, fun-loving Zappos than the Spartans of Leonidas. While Zappos has famously eliminated job titles in the name of equality, Gold Medal has not. However, like the Zappos leaders, Agugliaro encourages mutual respect between roles. He says he encourages the “inside” people who deal with the customers to think of the “outside” workers who do the electrical and plumbing jobs as their customers also — and vice versa.
Employees also get frequent morale-boosting events like an annual haunted house, birthday celebrations, and a gingerbread house competition. “The thing about culture is you have to engage in the fun so it never dies,” he said.
About two-and-a-half years ago, Agugliaro figured that much like Disney and Zappos, he could take his own successful business and use it as a platform to teach other owners. Motivational speaking turns out to be an excellent business if you have the talent for it.
“It really is a great business because it has a low overhead,” he said. “My service company has 125 trucks and 175 employees, so it’s a super high overhead business. And yeah we change toilets and furnaces and after you do your job, OK, you gave somebody comfort, but it’s nowhere near as rewarding as changing somebody’s life.”