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Spotlight Speaker Bill Rancic Shares His Experience at ISSA Show

NBC’s first Apprentice explains why some businesses fail while others reach the top.

October 12, 2022

Tuesday’s ISSA Show North American 2022 began with a powerfully motivating speech by Bill Rancic—an award-winning author and successful entrepreneur and restauranteur, but probably best known for his winner appearance on NBC TV’s The Apprentice.

Introducing Rancic was ISSA Executive Director John Barrett, who took the time to also speak briefly on the association’s new Rethink What Clean Means campaign and ISSA’s upcoming 100th anniversary in 2023.

Rancic started his talk with his first entrepreneurial opportunity, which occurred when he was just 8 years old. Thanks to his grandmother, he was introduced to the art of making pancakes. He proceeded to serve them up to the older ladies within his grandmother’s neighborhood. To his surprise, each had left a five-dollar bill under their plates. As young as he was, Rancic realized, “I’m onto something here.”

While in college at Chicago’s Loyola University, Rancic’s first venture was a cleaning business. At the age of 18, he washed and waxed boats on Lake Michigan for three summers. Working for clients who had a great deal of money, he recognized that they really were no different than himself.

Later, when working as an employee for a metals company, he witnessed a co-worker who had been there for decades be fired, and it was at that point that he firmly decided, “I’ll never let that happen to me. I’ll either work at a place where the people are valued, or I’ll start my own company.”

Not much later, he did the latter, starting a cigar of the month subscription club during the 1990s with only US$24,000 in funds to invest between himself, a partner, and a silent investor. What made the difference in the success of that business, he said, was his creative marketing endeavors. Using boxes full of cigars and funny eyeglasses, he reached out to Chicago-area radio personalities, asking them to take a closer look. The tactic landed him the chance to be on the city’s highest-rated radio morning show at that time. His initial five-minute opportunity turned into 30 minutes, and no sooner did he get back to his office that he learned the phones were ringing off the hook as requests for cigar subscriptions were already pouring in.

One of the biggest things Rancic said that differentiates people who are successful in business over those who are not is the ability to recognize an opportunity and seize it when it comes. Such an opportunity for him came in the form of The Apprentice, which arrived on the heels of a business disaster he suffered when the building he purchased to kick off a real estate career burned to the ground due to arson.

Up against roughly 215,000 candidates, he found himself chosen to appear on the show. He admitted that the time spent as a contestant was brutal, with two hours of sleep each night the norm. After winning, he later took the time to reflect and ask himself, “Why me?” He concluded that the following actions separate all successful business owners from the rest of the pack:

  • Embracing practical execution
  • Recognizing the importance of agility
  • Respecting, managing, and converting risk.

Similarly, Rancic pondered the traits that made the greatest business people so special. In his opinion, the following traits make all the difference:

  • They’re good decision-makers.
  • They’re creative.
  • They never quit and never make excuses.

Equally, he determined that the following personality traits can mean doom for a business:

  • Being reactive rather than proactive
  • Being surrounded by negative people
  • Not understanding the power of potential—in particular, their own potential.

Along with his wife—E! News and TV entertainment celebrity Giuliana—Rancic now owns nine restaurants across the United States, under the brand name RPM. It was a venture that the naysayers claimed would never make it. The restaurants currently generate $100 million in annual revenue.

Along with a robust Q&A session, Rancic ended his talk with this reminder for business success: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”

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