17.1 C
Edmonton
September 17, 2019

John Radostits’s Bucket List

John Radostits’s Bucket List What does a bored business junkie do in his spare time? Make millionaires. by steven sandor illustration by gary sawyer Last summer, John Radostits found himself so close to a raging bull, he could smell it. The former Edmonton grocery-store magnate decided to cross something off…

John Radostits’s Bucket List

What does a bored business junkie do in his spare time? Make millionaires.

illustration by gary sawyer

Last summer, John Radostits found himself so close to a raging bull, he could smell it.

The former Edmonton grocery-store magnate decided to cross something off his bucket list – Pamplona, Spain’s famous running of the bulls. And, after selling his chain of five Capital Region supermarkets to Sobeys last year, he had lots of time and money to burn.

It’s not really a surprise that he’d want to spend time with bulls. The 44-year-old (who looks closer to 34) owned five IGAs and helped expand the family business.

But even in his young career, times were changing. Sobeys and stores like it entered the city’s grocery war in 2004, the year it began replacing the IGA name with its own brand. By 2011, it was time for Radostits to sell the business he grew up with.

Now, Radostits is out of the grocery game, since he signed a non-compete clause as part of the sale, but he’s hungry to get back into the business world. “There are a lot of opportunities out there,” he says. “I am kissing a lot of toads, looking for my princess.”

While he weighs his options, the restless entrepreneur fills his days with two pet-projects: The first is the bucket list – off which he has crossed out “do a backflip (on skis)” and recently figured out how to “complete a Rubik’s Cube,” which nagged at him to no end.

The second is to make more millionaires through EO.

The attuned ear will overhear “EO” – Entrepreneurs’ Organization – at community functions throughout the city, in conversations over canaps and wine, at cocktail parties and business lunches. You’d think that “EO” was a secret society like the Skull and Bones, some sort of dark chamber for Edmonton’s nouveau riche, but actually you don’t need to know anyone to get in, and you can definitely check your cloak at the door.

EO membership follows one simple rule: Make a million dollars. If you own a business that makes a million or more in revenue each year, you can apply to join.

It started off as a young entrepreneurial organization back in 1987, formed by a group that included computer mogul Michael Dell and AOL executive Ted Leonsis, who would later own the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Since then, lots of young bulls have grown old with the organization and charged new chapters around the world with the task of freshening up membership. Worldwide, there are over 8,000 EO members in 41 countries, their businesses accounting for more than $138 billion worth of revenue every year. The Edmonton group has 117 members.

In the spring of 2011, Radostits was asked to run the Edmonton EO Accelerator program – and to join this program, companies don’t need one million dollars, though they do need to make a minimum of $250,000.

After a company is vetted by him and other EO leaders, it’s accepted provisionally into the EO club and embarks on a three-year program of courses and mentorship. After three years, if the firm hasn’t reached the million-a-year mark, the member is cut with the same emotional detachment an NHL coach shows a player destined for the minors.

Radostits accepted 25 recruits for the initial class in October 2011, and added 13 more this spring. But, you might be asking: Why would he busy himself with aspiring millionaires when he’s also looking for the next million of his own?

“It’s the patriotic Canadian in me that wants to breed the entrepreneurial spirit,” he says. “The more entrepreneurs we can nurture, the more networks we can create. As for Edmonton, I think it’s the same idea. There are certain hot spots in North America for entrepreneurship. You look at the dynamic of Silicon Valley or Seattle, with Microsoft and Boeing. Those cities have young, vibrant business communities.”

But, he says, to make a young, vibrant business community work, the CEOs need to talk to each other.

“It’s lonely at the top,” says Radostits. “You have to deal with things that they never taught you in school. You can’t ask your buddies.” And that’s where EO comes in. “You have other people in the same situation as you.”

Sherry-Lee Wisor, accepted into Accelerator in 2011, knew that feeling well.

“I was a punk-rock kid, I had a Mohawk and I used to think all businesses were bad. I was so wrong,” says Wisor, who is probably better known to music-loving locals as a singer and bass player in a number of groups, including Happy.

In 2007, she took over the family business, Schel Management Credit, when her father, Larry Heschel, passed away. She found it hard to talk about the realities of running a business with others in the music scene.

“[EO members] speak about the things I care about in life,” says Wisor, who is in the Accelerator’s inaugural class of 25. “I love to travel … to play music, and there’s a lot of talk about giving back to the community. In a lot of ways, EO has renewed my faith in humanity.”

As Accelerator members work toward the million-per-year mark, Radostits has undertaken a new challenge.

Since Edmonton now boasts the world’s largest EO Accelerator program, he’s been asked to help other chapters increase their membership numbers and help make millionaires in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and the rest of Canada.

Chicken Soup for the CEO Soul

In many ways, EO is as much group therapy as it is professional networking and development.

Just weeks into the three-year program, EO Accelerator members are asked to rate themselves in a number of areas, including family, fun and spirituality. One business owner complained to Accelerator president John Radostits that he gets antsy if he goes on vacation for more than five days. Another said he finds his work therapeutic. You can be as successful as you want but, Radostits asks them, what is it worth if you can’t take time to enjoy it?

To help them reach that million-per-year goal, Accelerator members are broken into smaller “accountability” groups, given mentors and asked to confess to a small peer group the things on which they want to improve. Then, they set personal and career  goals. But if they miss the goals, they need to share their shame.

“I feel the internal pressure when we meet up,” says Anna McDonough, member and co-owner of Coup {Garment Boutique}. “When I look ahead to next month’s meeting, will I have something to share with my group? Will I have made some progress that I can show to the group? I think it’s so easy to get lost in the day-to-day of working in your business that you don’t focus on working on the business.”

Accelerator is seeing more women than you’d find in the EO program. McDonough is one such example of the new Accelerator businessperson – not an older white male, not in oil and gas, real estate or construction.

“There is a lot of support in Edmonton,” says another member, Jolene Ali, owner of maternity spa, Sweet Momma. The cost ($1,500 for EO Accelerator) is minimal for what you can get out of it, she says.

“Here, even though my business is totally different from the others, we can find some common ground. There are issues that all businesses share in common, from rent to staffing.”