We had the good fortune of connecting with Chris Zinkel and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Chris, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I view risk as an essential part of life – both personally and professionally. But risk takes many shapes and forms throughout the process. I prefer to replace the word ‘risk’ with words such as –  luck, chance, and/or opportunity. Some of the risks we take seem trivial at the time but when you sit back and reflect show the true make-up of our ‘us-ness’. Below are a few examples of risks/opportunities I have taken and how they intertwine my current life.

I joined the Military out of high school – National Guard – essentially on a bet as one of my friends didn’t think I could make it through basic training. He sited that it would be too tough and I didn’t do well with taking orders. Not only did I complete my training, but I finished in the top 4 in my battalion, top 1% in physical fitness, and was a platoon guide for the majority of my time in basic. After completion, I was asked to join the regular Amry. I was thrilled and requested special training to be added to my contract that was to be signed when I returned from holiday break – before my MOS training. Toward the tail end of my leave, there was a massive blizzard that delayed my flight back to GA. Due to that delay, I missed the beginning of training and was a holdover for the next training session 4 weeks later.  Although being a full-time, military personnel can be wonderful, I soon realized that it wasn’t for me and I declined my contract.. The basic training experience taught me perseverance, mental strength, and what teams can really accomplish when moving in the same direction. The bet lead to joining the National Guard, the NG lead me to an expansion of my character, the blizzard delayed my additional training (which if I hadn’t had the break, I would have accepted the regular Army opportunity and I most likely would have been a life-long military man).

After training was complete, I planned on moving from WI to CA, using my GI Bill money to attend college. Before I moved, a HS friend asked if I would consider sending pictures to an agency in NYC that he was part of. He said that he would have asked years earlier, but I was a bit of an ass and he didn’t want to add fuel to the fire. Thankfully, the agents showed interest and asked me to move to NYC, so my tenure in CA was compressed into 4 months. During my stay in CA, my dad met a woman looking for help on a house project. During their chat, my dad noted that I was moving to CA for a bit and then off to NYC. She mentioned her career in the 80’s and wanted to me meet prior to moving to NYC. After our meeting, she offered me to watch her son while introducing me to her world. The last few days, she introduced me to things like – how to eat sushi, skincare, etc… You know…things that a teenager from WI really didn’t care much about. She also made a phone call to a college friend who worked in NYC for a friendly face in case I needed one. A few weeks later, I was in close proximity to her friend and decided to stop in to say hello. That soon turned into an invite to an office party the following week. That party turned into driving to Connecticut. Fast forward 20 years; she is my wife, we have two kids and are living in a quiet town a few miles away from her original apartment. The military lead me to CA, my HS friend lead me to NYC,  my dad lead me to his client, that client lead me to meet my wife, and my willingness to stay in the northeast lead us to kids and the current life we have together.

Regarding business, the same idea of being willing to take risk by keeping your head up and eyes open applies. Seeing the path above on how I moved to NYC, I lived in a model’s apartment where one of my roommates took a part-time job as a doorman at a major retailer during the holidays. He asked if I wanted to help and I said sure. I was 19 years old, living in NYC, modeling when opportunities presented themselves, and now working for Ralph Lauren. I started as a cashier, which was flexible, fun, and didn’t have a huge amount of responsibility. I kept my head up and ears open listening and learning as much as I could. I was given the opportunity to be promoted to runner which put me on the floor to work alongside the salespeople. I could ask questions, interact with customers, and generally learn the importance of communication. I learned from one of the salespeople the keys to business.

1. when you walk through the door to start your day, your personal life shouldn’t affect your professional life one bit. The hard truth is very few actually care about your situation as business is mostly measured by results.

2. Be honest. People generally understand when you are honest and genuine. People mostly see through new versions of the truth and when trust is gone, so are clients.

3. Work harder than anyone else. What you might lack in knowledge, make up for it in hustle or listening or questions. But always outwork your peers as you will gain respect by many.

That job also opened my eyes to a different world of people that I never experienced before. Listening to how they talked, places they travel, things they enjoy, and general quality of life was an invaluable way to spend my early 20’s. I was able to start at the bottom as a cashier and race through promotions becoming a senior seller within 18 months of joining the company. One day I received a phone call from one of my clients. He was the grandson of the founder of a French accessories company. He was impressed with how I handled myself and wanted to speak about an opportunity. Long story short, I was the first US male hired for the GM position for his new store in San Fransisco. Why is that important? Well, my normal day off at RL was Tuesday and now moved to Wednesday with the new company. On my day off, I enjoy playing basketball at noon so I had to find a new Wednesday game. That second Wednesday, I was playing and sprained my ankle. A nice gentleman took me to the hospital because I thought I broke it. During the drive, we learned about each other and then he dropped me off. Later that week, that person reached out asking if I would be interested in an interview. I took the interview, joined his company, three years later I left after learning the ropes and started my own business soon after. From modeling to Ralph Lauren to Longchamp to the promotional space, there were a lot of risks taken but I had the support, confidence and was just naive enough to take multiple jumps without a safety. I am now a 15-year business owner having started and sold a few businesses along the way. Had I never been living with the group of guys I did, these opportunities would have never been presented.

I did get burned out though and decided to sell my initial business to my partner. Selling created a lull in my schedule which allowed my mind to wander. I realized my parents were getting older and my stepdad enjoyed mowing lawns so I had a goal of starting a landscaping business – me starting and getting to a point for him to run the day-to-day operations.  My neighbor was in the space and I asked him if we could speak about his experience and what options might be out there. He recommended staying away from grass and focusing on ticks of which he was interested in partnering. A few weeks and tests later, we had our first treatment on the books and we were off. The sale of my marketing business allowed for me to see an opportunity in landscaping; my neighbor’s insights allowed for a partnership with someone that has 30+ experience, and my marketing/relationships within the community allowed for the business to begin and grow at a rapid rate.

What role has risk played in my life? Risk gave me everything. Taking risks allowed me to open doors I wouldn’t have seen had I not had my head up, eyes and ears open. I am married for 20 years, have two kids, started 7 businesses, sold 4 businesses, currently running 2 businesses, and things continue to evolve daily. Had I been risk-averse my whole life, I probably would have never left my hometown, working a dead-end job just to pay my bills, and never had experienced the world and all it has to offer. That snapshot of another life isn’t bad, but risk favors the bold, and I for one recommend taking as many risks as you can – or at the very least – keep your head up, eyes open, and options on the table as you never know where life will lead you.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am an entrepreneur. I love opening my eyes each day and seeing what can I do to make things a little bit better. That could just be a simple hello to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while or a new business that I am entertaining pursuing. I would like to think that things that set me apart from many are my energy, loyalty, and accountability. I love to work. I love the process. I love the grind. Character isn’t shown when everything goes perfectly. Character is revealed when things don’t go as planned. Being accountable allows me to lead because people know where I stand.

I get excited about sharing ideas, working with people who are willing to ask for help. I also enjoy being around genuine and caring individuals who focus on the journey.

Lessons I’ve learned and continue to are not to take things personally or too seriously; don’t spend money before it hits your bank account; ask for help; give a full effort for the things that take your time. I tell basketball players – whatever you do, do it 100% because I can always correct 100% wrong. Having to correct 50% of anything is next to impossible.

I would like the world to know that life shouldn’t stop at any age. There are opportunities all around us. Sometimes you should take a risk or two just to make sure you feel alive.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Showing someone the best time ever – I would take them to NYC which is about 45 minutes away. Events would include:
– open-aired bus with a narrator learning about what NYC’s history
– go to the viewing floor of the Empire State building
– Museums – MOMA, MET, Natural History, Guggenhiem
– Broadway shows
– Knicks game
– Possible concert at MSG
– after-hours lounges
– if Summer, spend a day walking around and through Central Park

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My path can be attributed to my mom for letting me explore and my wife Wendy, who was able to advise me on life decisions based upon love and open-mindedness instead of solely basing decisions on logic.

Website: www.onuppromos.com

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chris-zinkel/

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