Short Life Lessons From Rocco Romanella

By January 28, 2021 No Comments

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

“I was born in New York City but raised in New Jersey. My father was born in Italy and moved to the United States at the age of 14. My mother was born in the U.S. but went back to Italy for some time before coming back to the States to live. I am the oldest of four in a very traditional, old-fashioned Italian family. My dad stayed in high school only through his freshman year before leaving school and getting a full-time job as a tool and die maker in New York City.

The town I moved to in New Jersey did not have a lot of Italians. Although we spoke Italian inside the house, when I was outside the house, I only spoke English because my parents wanted our family to be American.
I had a very family-oriented childhood and almost every weekend had relatives over the house. My father instilled in all the children the values of hard work, integrity, and respect.

As I look back and understand finances now as a husband and a parent, I realize that growing up we were on the cusp of being poor, but never knew it. My parents and family never spoke about money or how tight things were, only that you have one family and make sure you take care of each other because nothing comes before or between you and your family. I believed that I was very fortunate to be raised in an environment where you were taught respect. You could disagree, but you were not allowed to be disagreeable or disrespectful.

We were taught that money did not motivate you, achievement did. The measure of your success was based on your success relative to your expectations. You achieved your success the old-fashioned way: you earned it through hard work.

It goes back to the conversation I had with my dad prior to my job at UPS. As we sat around the kitchen table, and I was describing the job, my dad gave him advice that has guided me throughout my career. My dad looked at me and calmly and in his own way said, “son, in everything you do, be the best you can be you owe it to your family. Learn everything you can about your job, and then learn some more. Whatever they ask you to do say, ‘Yes and thank you for the opportunity”. So, every time I was asked to move, I always thought back to my dad’s advice and I said yes. My father believed you lived your values. Growing up, my father would emphasize, ‘It is what you do when no one is watching that count’.

What is something you wish you would have realized earlier in your life?

For me, it was the realization of the importance of work life balance. To understand the difference between nice to do things and need to do things. My strength of being all in, focused, committed, and passionate at times became my weakness because I was all in on everything, even the things that in hindsight were nice to do and not need to do.

I look back at some of the events and family gatherings I missed because I was attending nice to do events was a sobering lesson on balance, and the understanding that nice to things are about choice.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

One that you hear often is, The devil you know is better than the Devil you do not know. While this may work with Wall Street investors who like consistency it can be harmful in many ways as a leader. Let us take it from a few perspectives.
People: you may stick too long with a person who needs a change of job or scenery or a new position. But the real casualty is the value you place on Diversity of people and thought and encouraging a wide range of viewpoints among team members in order to avoid groupthink and create more culturally sensitive solutions.

Business: sticking with the devil you know does not allow you to identify and successfully generate new products, markets, and geographic growth opportunities. It stifles you from continually searching for ways to add value and to position the organization for future success.

It is not the plan that is important, it is the planning.

If you focus on the planning process ( the activity of planning) only and not the desired outcome and how to accomplish the desired outcomes, along with the key metrics this leads to an organization with a poor plan and poor results with some great planning meetings. To me, it brings into question the Business Acumen of the leader. Do they understand and have experience in all functional areas of their business? Do they understand finance as the language of business and use it to effectively monitor and improve business performance and do they know how to utilize a Balanced Business Scorecard to augment financial planning? They should be credible with the investor community and all other stakeholders as they are building the plan. Finally, they need to become an expert in all aspects of business planning and lead the management team in highly effective planning protocols.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you have experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

For me, it was during my time at UniTek. I had just retired from UPS and was recruited for the CEO role at UniTek a Publicly traded Telecommunications company that had gone through a series of acquisitions and they were struggling with the Strategy, Integration, and Organic growth portion of their long-term strategic vision. Unfortunately, less than 6 months into my CEO role we had an accounting situation that we had to disclose with the SEC and our key customers. What started out as an exciting culture, strategy integration and growth plan became a capital restructure, refinance, and building a new company culture based on integrity and values. Although the violation happened prior to me coming on board, I chose to stay as CEO because I felt there were 3000 employees who did nothing wrong who might lose their jobs if we did not make it out of this situation.

I am happy to say, we did make it out, restructured the company, and retained our best people and customers. Some of the key values I leaned on and learned:

Personal Integrity – you always do what is right for your customers, people, shareowners, and stakeholders no matter how difficult the right answer may feel. You role model consistency between your words and actions; you live your word; you establish open, candid, trusting respectful relationships at all levels and you treat all people inside and outside fairly. Finally, you make decisions that are effective rather than politically correct.

I had to become a more creative problem solver- honing and becoming an excellent intuitive problem-solving leader in areas that I may not have been an expert in when I took the position. I used my insight supported by the proven problem-solving methodology I had used throughout my career. I had the experience that I could draw upon from previous assignments and the documented history of correctly diagnosing complex business problems and creating solutions that deliver acceptable outcomes. I also knew what I did not know and was not afraid to seek help in those critical areas.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

Through my passion and love for teaching and coaching, I believe I am a Team Builder who prides himself in building world-class teams because we build world-class people which leads to great team effectiveness.

I would define it as the ability to :

  • Establishes a climate where team collaboration and effectiveness flourish.
  • Establishes constructive and solid interpersonal relationships
  • Treat others with courtesy, tact, and respect.
  • Work effectively with others, regardless of organizational level, background, gender, race, or ethnicity.
  • Work to resolve disagreements, attempting to persuade others and reach agreements.
  • Supporting group decisions when group decisions are appropriate.
  • Lead and facilitates team interaction and maintain focus on group goals.

Also, as a leader, you must be able to handle differences in work styles effectively when working with coworkers and capitalizing on the strengths of others on a team to get work done even when they are your peers. It will be important to anticipate potential conflicts and addressing them directly and effectively before they become a problem or distraction.

Finally, as a coach, leader, and mentor it is important to understand the value of motivating and inspiring others to contribute opinions and suggestions and my personal commitment to the group goals.

What is your morning routine?

I am usually up around 5:30 am, I always shower, shave, and get dressed before I leave my room. No exceptions much to my family’s amazement at times.

I grab my coffee and attack the day, emails, game plans, and administrative items before the day begins for most. Job set up is critical for any job and certainly when you have a quick pace to your day and routine.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

I would say that during my difficulty at UniTek I learned that you do not let your highs get too high and lows get too low. It allows you to balance your emotions and helps keep your vision clear. It helps to avoid the emotional roller coaster and for me, keeps me focused.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
For me, it goes back to my book, Tighten The Lug Nuts. Do not allow important things to become urgent. You can only handle a few urgent things at a time so do not let important items that can be quickly taken care of become urgent and they can overwhelm you. NO LOOSE LUG NUTS so Tighten The lug Nuts!

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

For me, the books by legendary Coach John Wooden have had a great influence on my life and career. I had many great honors in my long career. Some honors were through achievement and some were in meeting the people and seeing the many places my career has taken me but meeting Coach Wooden ranks as one of the best. I originally went to college to be a High School History teacher and a baseball coach, so I have always had a passion for coaching and a belief that great leaders were great coaches and teachers. For me, being a leader allowed me to pursue my coaching and teaching passion in a different venue

Chances are good that someday you will meet someone famous. Maybe it is a sports figure or an actor or actress you have enjoyed, but the thrill of meeting a legendary coach whom I admired and often quoted was a dream come true.

Coach Wooden was both gracious and hospitable as we met and spoke in his home. I count this as one of the incredible moments in my career and it brought the books to life. After this meeting and conversation, Coach Wooden was an integral part of my leadership world.

Coach Wooden has been called one of the most respected coaches in the history of sports and the most successful coach in men’s college basketball history. Under his leadership, the Bruins achieved many accomplishments, including a record 10 NCAA men’s basketball championship titles. Many believe the records set under Coach Wooden’s leadership are unbreakable. He was also well known for his inspirational theories.

At our meeting, during the interview, and in all of the future readings, Coach Wooden helped shape my professional life and values.

Coach Wooden identified two cornerstones that laid the foundation for his “Pyramid of Success”—industriousness and enthusiasm. Industriousness, as Wooden defined it, is more than just showing up and going through the motions. It is work, hard work. It is the ability to not only work hard but to continue to improve. On the other end of the structure is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the heart behind the hard work. I learned and added my personal touch over time that “Hard work without enthusiasm is just that—hard work.” Enthusiasm is the ability to reach your full potential, to prepare and perform at your highest level. It is contagious, it brushes off on those you work with, those you work for, and the ones you lead. Coach Wooden and I were fortunate to coach, teach, and mentor some excellent individuals who went on very successful careers, Coach Wooden in the basketball arena, and I in the business arena.

In my view, the significant difference was the honesty of purpose in the people I managed, worked with, and mentored. It pertains to your motivation, to the pursuit of your goals and dreams. No name in lights or sneaker contracts for the working person. The reality is you are going to have to work at whatever it is you hope to achieve in your life. But it is how you face it and the journey you take that speaks to your character. Your true character is defined by your honesty of purpose. Your purpose is sacred and authentic. Honesty is what is at the core of your moral character. It is being trustworthy, loyal, fair, sincere, and true, even when it is difficult to be. It is not only how you create your values, but also how you add value to the lives of others.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

Yes, there are a few that have become Rockyism’s
“Never allow anyone to affect you more than you can affect yourself.”
“You are the architect of your own destiny.”
“The Speed of the Leader Determines the Pace of the Pack…. Set the pace”
“Sometimes we Lead, Sometimes we Follow and Sometimes we go where they need us to go.”

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