The CEO of Columbus-based office design and furnishing company, Continental Office, Ira Sharfin, spoke with about his passion for life-long learning, and why he teaches the mantra “bet on yourself” to his own family.
The best thing you can do is bet on yourself. It’s not that you don’t need other people – you always need people to help you – but no one can do it for you. There are no handouts.” – Ira Sharfin
Ira is the CEO of the award-winning, Columbus-based, office design and furnishing company, Continental Office, and a member of the Columbus Young Professionals Club Advisory Board.
As a partner of Continental Office since 2005, Ira leads “…one of the top workspace solutions providers in Central Ohio.” The legacy Ohio company has locations in Pittsburgh and Toledo with over 200 employees.
Ira is a Columbus, Ohio native with consulting and management experience at Coopers & Lybrand Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and IBM Corp.
If you’re a fan of the show don’t forget to Subscribe to see new episodes, and Rate or Review us wherever you tune in!
In this episode Michael and Ira talked about:
- Ira’s early challenges in academics
- How to cultivate a passion for life-long learning
- Why you need conscience, conviction, and curiosity to succeed
- Takeaways on how to embrace mistakes and listen with empathy
- How to run a business that leads to lasting prosperity and fulfillment
- Why it’s not where you start …
- And more!
Ira Sharfin: The best thing you can do is bet on yourself. And it's not that you don't need other people. You always need people to help you, but no one can do it for you. There's no handouts. And that's kind of how I grew up, so I've been saying that for years, that I'd rather bet on myself than put the ball in someone else's hand.
Michael Redd: Hey, everybody. This is Michael Redd, and welcome to the Betting on Yourself podcast where I interview successful entrepreneurs, athletes, and other top performers who rose to the top, took success into their own hands, and bet on themselves.
Michael Redd: My guest today is Ira Sharfin, CEO of Columbus-based office design and furnishing company Continental Office, and a member of the Columbus Young Professionals Club Advisory Board. I've known Ira for years. I was actually with him when he asked his future wife out for the first time. And in all that time he's had a conscious conviction and curiosity. It's served him well throughout his career.
Michael Redd: But success didn't come easy. He had to learn how to embrace mistakes, listen with empathy, and navigate the softer, more subtle aspects of running a business that lead to lasting success and fulfillment. There's so much to learn from the story, so let's dive in. Here's my conversation with Ira Sharfin.
Michael Redd: So, Ira, this has been a long time coming, having you on the podcast. And you are a dear friend to me. You're actually a brother, we call each other brother. And it's an honor to have you on the podcast.
Ira Sharfin: I feel the same. Yeah, it's a treat for me to be included. And, yeah, I'm excited about this, so thank you.
Michael Redd: Yeah, absolutely. So if I call you Shark from time to time on the podcast, for all the listeners, his nickname is Shark. And so I may reference that a few times throughout the podcast because I'm accustomed to calling him Shark, now. But anyhow, Ira, we've been knowing each other for a long time and we've had incredible conversations over the years. And it's just important to kind of get this on the pod now, for the world to hear.
Michael Redd: Obviously, the theme of the podcast is betting on yourself. Explain to all the listeners what that has meant to you over the years.
Ira Sharfin: Well, that's a great way to jump in. Before we get to that, I did want to mention, and very few people know this probably, you, Michael, and my wife, and Achea, your wife, is that you were not only with me when I first met my wife but you were also with me when I first asked her out, that first time.
Michael Redd: That's right, that's right.
Ira Sharfin: And both involved Ohio State basketball games.
Michael Redd: Yes.
Ira Sharfin: One was in Columbus and one was at Duke.
Michael Redd: Yes, yes.
Ira Sharfin: So, anyway, I just thought... I was thinking about that this morning, driving in.
Michael Redd: Oh, I'll mention a couple of stories within our podcast today.
Ira Sharfin: Yeah, I'm sure you will. I'm sure you will, but we go back a long way. Yes.
Michael Redd: We do, we do. How many years now for you and Meg?
Ira Sharfin: We've been married five and a half years.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Ira Sharfin: Yeah.
Michael Redd: That goes by fast.
Ira Sharfin: And I think for you and I, it's got to be well over 10 years.
Michael Redd: Oh, I would say 13, 14 years.
Ira Sharfin: Yeah, 13, 14 probably.
Michael Redd: Yeah, yeah.
Ira Sharfin: But, yeah. Sorry for the diversion.
Michael Redd: No.
Ira Sharfin: But in terms of the whole betting on yourself, it's funny, because I've got five girls. We'll get into that, as you know. And I tell my older girls, "The best thing you can do is bet on yourself. And it's not that you don't need other people. You always need people to help you, but no one can do it for you. There's no handouts." And that's kind of how I grew up, so I've been saying that for years, that I'd rather bet on myself than put the ball in someone else's hand.
Ira Sharfin: I tell my kids that. I tell people at work that. Everybody has their own journey. I think I didn't realize the whole betting on myself, probably until I was in my 20s. I had a pretty easy time in high school. And then I got to college and it was like, "Whoa, these people are really serious." And so I really got a big awakening in terms of being accountable and taking responsibility for myself, and understanding that mistakes actually build character and help you, lead you to success in the future.
Ira Sharfin: And so for me it really came down to putting all the weight on me, and then as it relates to work, building my team around me. But, I always want to have the ball in my hands, so to speak. I know you did too, when you were playing. But, I always want to be the one kind of dictating the pace, if I can. And so again, probably for 30 years I've really been betting on myself, and that's throughout my business career, and life as well. Making the decision to change my own wellness plan, and working out, and adopting a vegan lifestyle, and mental health as part of that. I think that all fits into really focusing on yourself, and then that enables you to take care of everybody else.
Michael Redd: Great perspective, as always. And I've seen the physical transformation over the last, I don't know, seven to 10 years, with you and your body, which is symbolic of your life.
Ira Sharfin: Yeah, I'm a work in process.
Michael Redd: That, we all are. We all are.
Ira Sharfin: Yes.
Michael Redd: And take me back, Ira. Was there a moment where, even as a child, you took the risk to bet on yourself?
Ira Sharfin: I think so, because I grew up just like you, different part of town but I grew up in Columbus for the first 14 years of my life. My parents moved to the suburbs. But I was always figuring out different ways that I could make money, you know, because my parents didn't have a ton of money. We were middle class, and so I would mow lawns and shovel snow and paint... When they used to have sidewalk numbers, I'm dating myself, painted on the curbs... I was selling candy bars. I'd buy them for a quarter and then I'd sell them for a dollar. I think I benefited from a lot of lazy neighbors.
Ira Sharfin: So, I kind of put it on myself. I wanted to be able to buy things. But I would say for me the big aha, in terms of betting on myself, probably came really in my freshman year in college, because I got to college and I was on probation my first semester. Which, yeah, I better make sure no one from my company listens to this, but I was on the verge of flunking out of school. And I remember my dad calling and saying, "Listen, you're coming home if you repeat this second semester."
Ira Sharfin: And so I realized I couldn't skate by any longer. I had a lot of fun that first semester, but I figured I'd better get down to business and kind of take control of what I'm doing. I still struggled through. It was tough. Engineering was certainly tough for me. I even think back to the first day... I can say I went to University of Michigan. You were going to out me at some point. It was my first engineering class, and actually the dean came in and he said, "Listen. Look to your left, look to your right. One of you won't be here in a few years." And I'm thinking, "Well, I hope it's not me."
Ira Sharfin: And then a semester later it looked like it was going to be me. And so I said, "Hey, this is crazy. I got to get my act together." And so because I got off to a pretty slow start and really struggled, I had some learning difficulties I didn't realize early on, until I got to college. And I didn't have any job offers when I was graduating. All my friends, they were getting offers from General Motors and General Electric. Like, "What are you doing?" I'm like, "Well, I'm going to go to Chicago. I didn't tell people I didn't have a job.
Ira Sharfin: And so I just went through the directory. We didn't have the internet then. This was 1988. And so I found a job with a manufacturing company in Chicago and was making a lot less than my peers were, coming out of school. And so it really kind of hit me that I got to just take control of all this. And so I think those struggles early on really helped me achieve success later on in life, because it didn't come easy to me and it wasn't the path, the college and the direct, first job after college that I thought I would have. And so it wasn't glamorous, but I guess things work out in the end. It's not where you start.
Michael Redd: Wow.
Ira Sharfin: That kind of got me into my 20s. Again, I tell my kids and young people that we hire, "Don't worry about where you start. It's your path. It's your journey. It's where you finish. And just use all the tools you have."
Michael Redd: How did a kid from Columbus, Ohio, get to the University of Michigan? That, help me [crosstalk 00:10:07].
Ira Sharfin: [crosstalk 00:10:07] I always tell people that don't know me, when they say that, "How could you go to Michigan, growing up here," and I loved Ohio State growing up... I'm one of the few people, probably in the world, that root for Ohio State and Michigan, unless they're playing each other, but my smart-ass answer is always, "Well, I couldn't get into Ohio State, so I had to go to Michigan." Which, back then Ohio State was a little easier to get into, but for me, I just, I wanted to get away.
Ira Sharfin: My older sister went away to Indiana University, and I just wanted to be somewhere different, you know, growing up right around campus. If I had been offered a basketball scholarship, I would have stayed in town, but that wasn't coming my way. So, frankly, Michigan was the best school I got into. My high school baseball coach said, "It's the best college you got into, and you should go there." And so I thought about it and I ended up going there. It worked out okay.
Michael Redd: It did, because you've become wildly successful as a businessman over the years. You are a pillar in this community, CEO of a incredible company, Continental. But you mentioned something that was incredible, that your ability to get through those tough, tough times in college and leaving school prepared you for what you're able to do now with your business. The one thing I've observed about you is that you are a competitor, and you have a lot of grit. Talk to me about how those moments shaped your character to prepare you to run the business that you run today.
Ira Sharfin: Yeah. I mean we've obviously spent a lot of time together. And I'm not the greatest athlete, there's some things I do better than others, but I am very competitive. I had someone years ago, when I was in my first career... My first career was in consulting. My second career was when I bought Continental Office. Consulting is a very competitive, aggressive field. I had someone once tell me that I hated losing more than I loved winning.
Ira Sharfin: And I thought about that. I'm like, "Well, maybe... I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing." But I would just, I would take things so personally if I lost a project, or even when I was a kid, I played a lot of baseball and tennis and I just, I hated losing. What I didn't realize is, you're not going to win everything. And these minor setbacks or mistakes really, they're all learnings.
Ira Sharfin: I wish I would have picked up on that earlier on in life. And, yeah, I certainly realized it years later, but just being very competitive and driven to win, I think it's a blessing and a curse. I think it's a blessing because it keeps you focused and motivated and kind of eye on the prize, but I think it's a curse if you don't realize that you are going to lose, you do need to ask for help and surround yourself with other people.
Ira Sharfin: Early in my career, I thought I could do it all myself. And I realized that the right path for me wasn't working more hours than everybody else, it was figuring out how to work smarter. And so I just became a sponge. I would surround myself in consulting with... I'd try to get on really cool projects and I'd get to know the CEOs, because I would just be curious. And I'd wander around and meet them and ask them questions. I would research a lot and read a lot, and these are things I didn't do in my teens. So I felt like I had to make up time, that maybe others did those things when they were younger.
Ira Sharfin: But I think just that drive to compete and to win... You and I have talked. I think there's a lot of parallels, business and sports. They use a lot of the same analogies. I don't think any great basketball or football coach says, "Hey, let's worry about the team we're playing." I mean, you do worry about them, but you want to focus on your team. There's only so much practice time and you want to be ready.
Ira Sharfin: So I was always prepared, whether it was a business meeting, a proposal, meeting a new client, an executive, I was always prepared. And I still, I do research. I just, I want to know as much as I can. Again, I think that's a competitiveness that kind of drives me, but you know. I'm 55 now. I think you do mellow with time, whether it's fine wine or whatever. So I think I'm a better leader at 55 than I probably was at 35.
Michael Redd: How so?
Ira Sharfin: I think just being more connected emotionally, showing more empathy. I think I'm a better listener than I used to be. And I think having a wife and five daughters helps as well, because girls, they just want you to listen. And I enjoy that. And so I'm just very curious by nature, and that's why consulting was a great career for me, in my first career, because you're always asking questions.
Ira Sharfin: But I think where I am now, I can look back and I can look at some of the things I did and why I did them that way. I was probably too hard on some people. And so I've always loved building teams and hiring people, and seeing them succeed and get promoted and build their careers. And so now I think I spend more time on that. I'm just spending more time on the overall business, versus being in the weeds, being in the business.
Ira Sharfin: Again, part of that is bringing in the right team and a lot of people smarter than me, but I think part of it is just connecting with people. When the whole pandemic started with COVID-19, I started having what I call listening sessions. It was really actually, and you and I have talked about this, it was really after the murder of George Floyd. And I just want to connect and hear what's on people's mind. And I wanted to talk, and I was upset. It was a sad time.
Ira Sharfin: And so I've continued to have these sessions, and it's great. Sometimes I have eight or 10, 12, sometimes maybe a little less, and it's just connecting with people. And then there can be followup conversations about what someone on our team is interested in, or some topic, or questions they have for me. And so I just find myself being much more transparent now. And again, I don't know if it's because of a lot of the civil unrest and racial injustice coupled with the worst pandemic we've faced, but it's therapeutic.
Ira Sharfin: I mean, I really love talking with people and being more open. I'm even doing that with, certainly with you a lot, and other people that are in my life. I don't think when I was in my 30s, maybe it was I felt it was a sign maybe more of a weakness to show emotion and ask people how they're doing and check in. It was just more about business and finish the month strong. Those things are still important, but I think there's just other things that are maybe equally or more important.
Michael Redd: Well, you're a dear brother of mine. And the one thing that I've noticed about you is that there's a conscience that you have. There's conviction that you have. And there's a curiosity that you've always had. Which is interesting, because you have a background in consulting. You have a 16-year career in consulting. And I believe you told me that you worked in partnership with Price Waterhouse and IBM. The question I have for you on top of that is, how did you get into the office environment space?
Ira Sharfin: Yeah, that's-
Michael Redd: That's a big bet.
Ira Sharfin: [crosstalk 00:18:47] if you can share. Yeah, that's a big leap. But, yeah. And listen, I loved consulting. I actually started at Coopers & Lybrand, which merged with Price Waterhouse and became PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting. And you're right, then IBM bought PwC Consulting. I was a partner at PwC and then I became an executive at IBM. And those were great. I was able to be fortunate. I was part of the team that integrated PwC into IBM, and learned a lot.
Ira Sharfin: But I really had an entrepreneurial spirit, and I had to take those back. My dad was joking with me. He goes, "That goes back to when you were selling those candy bars, pretty much back in Berwick in the '70s." But for me, I just, I wanted to either buy a company or start a company. And I always thought, Michael, because I worked with a whole lot of large Fortune 500, even Fortune 50 companies, and I thought, "I'm going to run a publicly traded company someday."
Ira Sharfin: I think I came to the realization I probably wasn't the right person to do that and I was probably better suited to being an entrepreneur. I started looking at different opportunities when I moved. I was in Chicago after college for a number of years during my consulting career. And when I moved back to Columbus in 2004 I started exploring different opportunities, and kind of led me to Continental Office and Frank Kass, who's another dear friend, and I know a friend of yours.
Michael Redd: Yeah.
Ira Sharfin: Knew Frank growing up, he had been a mentor of mine. And we started talking. And he didn't really have a succession plan for the office furniture company that he owned in addition to his real estate and construction holdings. I looked at it as an opportunity to own something and still have my mentor for a while. And it also gave me an opportunity to really incubate and launch some other businesses and divisions, which we've been successful, really because of the people we have, and kind of grow the business.
Ira Sharfin: It's not something I set out to do, and even people that are in the furniture industry say, "Why would you ever do this?" And to me it wasn't really about the product. It was more the opportunity and the relationships. Again, I'm just a big relationship guy. And being able to not be on the road, and not only live but work in the community, I mean, where I grew up, and develop relationships, because a lot of business kind of crosses over to your personal life.
Ira Sharfin: And so that, to me it was just a huge opportunity, but there were risks as well. I mean, I took a big pay cut and there was no guarantee it was going to work out, but I love it. I wouldn't change my 16-year consulting career and I wouldn't change my pivot to buying Continental. I think it was meant to be for me.
Michael Redd: Anybody that knows you knows that you're one of the nicest human beings, whether it be to me or to anybody. You've always been just a genuinely incredible human being. The one re-occurring thing that you keep saying is teams and relationships, teams and relationships. And I know you hold that at a high value. Talk about how important that is for you when you hire, when you begin to promote. How important is relationships? I know it's very important to you because I've been knowing you for the last 14 years. It's been incredible. How important is that to you, as far as relationships within the culture of the business and your life?
Ira Sharfin: Yeah. I mean huge, really important. I think early on, when I moved back to Columbus and bought the company, I thought, "Well, I need to be on a lot of boards and committees and go to every event and be seen." I realized I was doing it for the wrong reasons and that it was, as it relates to relationships, that it's really more about the quality than the quantity. It doesn't mean that... Certainly through the company, I know a bunch of people, and I haven't unfriended people, but I realized that I couldn't be everywhere. And just to go to things to be seen or maybe I'll make some contact, that's not really what it was about.
Ira Sharfin: So I kind of redirected and just focused more on community and the company. You touched on the recruiting aspect. I'm trying to meet almost everybody we're going to hire. It's tough for me, just given our operations business, when we're hiring furniture installers and flooring installers. We've got an office in Pittsburgh and also Toledo. I can't be everywhere. And again, I want to trust the people that are on my leadership team.
Ira Sharfin: But if we're going to hire someone in sales or for any type of manager position, I want to meet them because I want to understand what their values are and their behaviors. When people talk about culture and fit, and along with that comes diversity. To me it's really important that people bring diversity in all aspects, diverse thinking, backgrounds.
Ira Sharfin: One story I always remember, the CEO of one of my clients when I was consulting told me a story. He said that his head of sales came in one day and said, "I'm tired of all these salespeople in the field. They don't do it the right way and I need to hire more people like me." And I asked this CEO, his name was Paul, I said, "What did you say to him?" "I said, 'Well, if I hire more people like you, I don't need you.'"
Ira Sharfin: And so I always think about that, that you really need to hire people that push back and challenge the status quo. And I don't want everybody saying yes. From recruitment, it's really important that people have aspirations, that they bring something unique. And I think everybody in our company is important, because they all add value, they all touch the customer, support the customer. And so I don't look at...
Ira Sharfin: We got the first team and the second team and the third team. I mean, some people have more experience or perform at a higher level. But touching on teams, again, I tell all of our associates that Continental Office is a team sport. We're going to win and lose together. And I don't really want to hire people that are lone rangers, that are going to go off and do things by themselves and not let you know if there's issues. And I don't want to hire people that are trying to be heroes and do it all by themselves and try to take all the accolades.
Ira Sharfin: I'm probably guilty of receiving a lot of congratulations and acknowledgements on the behalf of the work that our people do. I kind of joke that I get thanked all the time for things that I personally didn't do, but the one thing I'm most proud about is our team. We've been able to grow the business pretty substantially. And to me, that's the responsibility is bringing people on and worry about what to pay people so they can provide for their families.
Ira Sharfin: We've got about 220 associates. That's what gets me energized. I'd put our team up against anybody. I know there's a lot of great companies out there, but they're very focused on taking care of each other. And what I think I've been saying more of that during the last several is that, "Be safe. Take care of yourselves and your family, but take care of each other." And so I always thank them for taking care of each other and taking care of our clients and taking care of the community, because we do a lot to give back.
Ira Sharfin: And that's another area that our folks work as a team, whether it's Pelotonia or food drives, things like that. They're very passionate. I know that's a long answer to the question, but to me the team is everything. It's Bo Schembechler, right? "The Team, The Team, The Team."
Michael Redd: Sure.
Ira Sharfin: And so I can't think of any huge successes we've had that didn't involve half a dozen or more people. And when we have company meetings, we call out the team and talk about customer feedback. And a lot of it's about our installers. The last people that our clients see could be that person that installed the furniture or the flooring or installed the walls. So we're all about the team.
Michael Redd: Relationships are the currency of life, and you've been a brother to me. I've mentioned that at least three or four times now on this podcast. You travel with me around the country. You came to my last game in Milwaukee, came to one of my games in Phoenix. And we have just become dear, dear brothers to each other. You hit on it earlier, about this year, this whole year. And I believe leaders are born in crisis. And I'm talking to one right now, an incredible leader, you know I'm right, because of the ability to bring up tough conversations.
Michael Redd: And you and I are going to tag-team at some point pretty soon to talk about what's happened this year, all the social unrest and obviously COVID. How have you been able to lead in this time, because there's so much pressure right now to lead?
Ira Sharfin: Yeah. It's tough, because it's one thing to lead when there's not a pandemic and you're dealing with competition and customers having demands, but when you can't physically be with your people, and look across the table or sit down next to them, it's a challenge. So I think we sent people home on March, I think it was March 16th. It's been eight months already. And doing the Zoom calls, you can stay in touch with people but I think it does put a big strain.
Ira Sharfin: And so, early on when the pandemic hit, I had daily check-ins. And I did this for a couple months with my executive team. There's six of us. And then we would do weekly or biweekly with our extended team, which we call our leadership team. It's another 12 individuals. And those women and men, we're relying on them to really direct the strategy and implement with 200-plus people.
Ira Sharfin: So it's been a big challenge, and I think communication is the way we've done it, a lot of video updates that I would do with Kyle, who's my president works with me would do, and really try to cascade that down so that people really understood not just what we were doing from a business standpoint, but that we cared. We knew that people were hurting, not just the pandemic but then the thing, as you know, that saddens me the most is just all the racial violence. It's a lot that we're dealing with.
Ira Sharfin: And so I just didn't realize that we weren't having, or maybe there wasn't... Well, there was a need for it, but there wasn't anything that was really prompting us to have more direct conversations and even checking in with some of our people of color and just saying, "How you doing with all this," because I'm going through it differently. Listen, I've got white privilege. It's hard for me to put myself in the shoes of one of our black associates.
Ira Sharfin: And so really, Michael, you said, "Hey, just be genuine and be direct and ask people." And so I did. So I mean, your advice was very helpful. And so again, it was very liberating to say, "It's okay to have those direct conversations and ask people how they're doing." But I think a combination of putting a very strong, consistent message out there and then checking in with people as much, one-on-one, as you can.
Ira Sharfin: And I'm going to keep doing it, because we're certainly not out of the woods. And even though we brought people back in the office some, lately with the governor's mandates, we've kind of thinned it out again. So it's been the most challenging, I think, leadership time for me, from the standpoint of communicating and not being able to see our folks. It's tough.
Michael Redd: Yeah.
Ira Sharfin: It's definitely tough. And I think for a lot of our associates it's lonely, too. I think we're finding some of the younger ones, which you would think would do the best working from home, some of them, they don't have significant others, they don't have kids, and so they're getting lonely, because they might be working in a one-bedroom apartment because it's not safe. They're not out there with friends and people. I worry about that, just the mental health of not just our associates, but the community as a whole.
Michael Redd: It's so valid. And along the way, family has really been important during this time of quarantining and all that we've seen this year. I know you're a huge family man, five girls, incredible wife in Meg. That's been the one consistent thing for you, right, this year?
Ira Sharfin: It really has. I guess I'm always a big believer that good things can come out of bad. And I believe it was Winston Churchill, right, in World War II said, "Never waste a good crisis." So I think being able to spend time with my girls. My wife's a doctor, as you know, and so she's busy at OSU most of the time. But being able to spend that time, where I normally would be at the office, has been great. I mean, it's just connecting with them.
Ira Sharfin: You know, my older girls are struggling because they're doing school online, but they're kind of settling in. And then the two little ones, they're just... I think they're happy Dad's around. They seem to be happy. But being outside, it's getting colder now, spent a lot of time outside and that was nice, getting a lot of workouts in and just staying healthy and getting ready for when we have a vaccine and can get on the other side of this.
Ira Sharfin: But I think that family time has probably been the thing that's kept me the most sane, is realizing that this too shall pass. And that for my kids, there's so many more years that they have to go through, whether it's school or college and their careers. So I try not to get too down. Like you, I'm a pretty upbeat, optimistic person. It has been challenging, not being able to, we have talked about this, hug my parents. I can see them through social distance, but I haven't been able.
Ira Sharfin: Fortunately, they're in town, like yours, but I haven't been able to hug them and go see extended family and friends, but I think I've strengthened a lot of personal relationships by working from home more.
Michael Redd: Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. True statement?
Ira Sharfin: I think that is a true statement. I always like to be comfortable early on and be in control. And I think when you become more vulnerable and get to the point where you're uncomfortable... I kind of describe to people... I love to snow ski. And I'm not great but I'm not the worst, but I can pretty much ski any mountain, but I don't look pretty at all. I look like I'm going to fall at any point.
Ira Sharfin: But it's kind of that living on the edge, I guess. It's like in basketball, I guess. You're going to miss a bunch of shots, but you've said to me, "Hey, when you're a shooter," like you, "You got to get in the zone, in the flow. And you got to take enough shots. Right? You can't just come in every 10 minutes and take one shot." And so to me, trying things, piloting things at work or things that may not work out.
Ira Sharfin: I bought a business years ago in Indianapolis, and it was a disaster. I mean, we lost money. I ended up selling it. But it was good in a sense, because it taught me what we were capable of and what... I probably avoided making bigger mistakes in subsequent years. So I look at that as a life lesson. So I think you do have to get out of that comfort zone. And people that always want to be safe are just going to... They're going to leave a lot on the table. I don't want to be that type of person.
Ira Sharfin: I want to push myself and have the best life experiences I can have. It's not about possessions. It's more about experiences. And I think getting outside of your comfort zone helps you handle adversity, too. I think that kind of circles back to betting on yourself. I think it's hard to bet on yourself if you're just going to be in a safe zone and be in a bubble and not risk things.
Ira Sharfin: And I've done a lot of things that... stupid, or they haven't succeeded, but I push my team all the time like, "What if we did this? How about..." And then they'll either prove to me it could work, or oftentimes they'll show me that it doesn't make sense, but it might lead us to something that's better. So I'm always kind of pushing people and planning different ideas. I don't mind being uncomfortable. I think that's a good way to be.
Michael Redd: So, last question, Ira. What do you share with your 16-year-old self? After all of your experiences and challenges and mountaintop experiences, what do you tell your 16-year-old self in preparation for the journey?
Ira Sharfin: Wow. That's like one of those movies where you go back into a 16-year-old body as an adult. Probably a lot of things. I think I would tell my 16-year-old self, "Don't worry. Things work out. That relationships matter more than you realize. And at the end of the day, what we really have are our family, faith, relationships. All the games that are played in sports, no one necessarily remembers the scores, it's that you had a great season."
Ira Sharfin: "So to me, I think relationships, I think that empathy is very important. It's okay to be sensitive. It's okay to show emotion and let down your guard. You don't have to be tough all the time. Patience." I've always been impatient, and maybe that goes with being very competitive as well, but I would tell my 16-year-old self to, "Be more patient." And I think lastly, just that, "It's okay to make mistakes, not to be perfect. It's part of a learning process."
Ira Sharfin: I think a lot of young people today, with social media and getting into colleges, there's so much pressure on kids, whether it's your first job, how money you're going to make, promotions. I would tell my 16-year-old self that, "All the setbacks you're going to face, don't take it personally. Learn from them. Don't try to make the same mistake again. It's the journey. Just don't worry about where you are at any given point in time. It's the path you're headed on." That's what I'd want my 16-year-old self to know.
Michael Redd: Last question. I lied, Ira. Last question. What do you wear to a Ohio State-Michigan game? What do you wear? I know the answer to this, but [crosstalk 00:41:00]
Ira Sharfin: Ah, come on. You didn't [crosstalk 00:41:02] me. All right. All right, so if it's in Columbus, I usually wear black or gray, kind of nondescript. And you've been with me at a lot of games.
Michael Redd: Yes.
Ira Sharfin: If I'm in Ann Arbor, I can wear maize and blue, but I'm usually pretty neutral. I'm usually pretty neutral. Listen, it's been a tough decade or so, as a Michigan grad, but because of you and growing up here... I do a lot of business with OSU. Certainly, my wife [crosstalk 00:41:39] will be there.
Michael Redd: Well, Gene's your uncle. Right?
Ira Sharfin: Gene being part of the family, OSU's in my blood but it's a good rivalry. Right? Definitely a good rivalry. Oh, God. I knew you'd slip it in there somewhere. That's horrible.
Michael Redd: Listen, I love you like a brother, man.
Ira Sharfin: That's horrible.
Michael Redd: I love you. That's why I asked that question.
Ira Sharfin: No, no, I feel the same way. You are family to me and, again, so thankful to be included. And just getting to know you and Achea and Michael and Arden. I haven't been able to see you in person as much, or the kids, but we'll get back to that. And it's certainly... I'm thankful.
Michael Redd: You're the man. Thank you, brother, for joining the podcast today. I think your life is a model [inaudible 00:42:35] bet on yourself, man.
Ira Sharfin: My pleasure. Thank you.
Michael Redd: I hope you enjoyed the insight and wisdom Ira shared during this episode. It was great to catch up with him, and I love his passion for learning. That's something that we should all strive for, no matter where we are in life. If you want to learn more about Continental Office and their award-winning design team, visit ContinentalOffice.com. Thanks for listening and, until next time, I'm Michael Redd. And remember, you are the secret to your success.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.