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Late last month, I attended the PMMI Executive Leadership Conference, an annual trade event for packaging machinery manufacturers. According to PMMI, “this must-attend event features impactful education that can help you navigate the latest industry trends… and take your business strategy to the next level.” Personally, I keep going back for two main reasons. First, I enjoy talking with like-minded business leaders in SencorpWhite’s industry. Second, I always benefit from listening to the presentations from ITR Economics. They discuss trends with macroeconomics, industrial manufacturing, automation, and advanced technology, and frankly, I have found their forecasting so spot-on that is has become a necessary component of my business strategy planning.

This year, PMMI ELC offered even more value—because the keynote speaker was Daymond John.

Like many of you, I recognized John from the popular TV show, Shark Tank, but I had never heard him speak before. John opened his talk by telling us that he used to dream about making it big in hip-hop, but since he couldn’t sing or dance, he had to find another way to capitalize on the hip-hop movement. In 1992, with $40 in his pocket, John founded the fashion label FUBU (For Us, By Us) and started sewing sweatshirts and hats in the living room of the house where he was raised by his single mom. Today, he is the face of American entrepreneurship, managing a multi-billion-dollar empire encompassing fashion, media, philanthropy, and even a monthly shaving club.

John’s story captured my interest from the start. How could someone from such humble beginnings (to say the least) climb to the top of the food chain?  What could I learn from him?

I listened as John offered a few memorable lines, like “Responsibility is taken, not given” and “Assets feed you; liabilities eat you.” Good stuff, to be sure, but relatively common fare for speakers at a business conference. But then, moving on to his core message, John told us all to start thinking and acting like “sharks” (a nice play on the show he stars in). As it turns out, SHARK is an acronym John’s now uses to guide his life:

S” = “Set goals.”  John said every day he was driven by his goal of being a success in the hip-hop scene.

H” = “Do your Homework.” It’s not enough to have a goal or dream; you also need to do your research. You need to answer questions like: Is your dream achievable? What is the market? How are you going to actually achieve your goal?

A” = “Amore” (love).  John reminded us that when you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

R” = “Remember, you are the brand.” Everyone knows that companies have brands, but YOU are your own brand. John said it is essential to have a two-to-five-word mantra that tells the world who you are and what you do. Nike uses “Just Do It.” For FUBU, it’s “For Us, By Us.” What is your brand?

K” = “Keep swimming!” Success isn’t instantaneous. Inevitably, you will fail, and you need to be able to learn from those experiences and keep going. This made me think of the old adage, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

John’s talk was one of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard in a long while, and his message was clear: Anyone can become a SHARK—if you set a goal for yourself, do your homework, create and sell your own brand, love what you do, and always, keep swimming!