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The Executive Hoodlum with John Costello
I have with me John Costello. John is an author and he calls himself The Executive Hoodlum. He is the corporate Vice President of Business Development and Government Relations for over $6 billion in the advanced semiconductor market. John, welcome to the show. How did you end up becoming an Executive Hoodlum?
Thanks for having me. Executive Hoodlum is the name of my book. It was the only title I could think that would encompass the whole book itself to give you the entire story. It’s the only thing that I can encapsulate it with. I have an update for you. Since I wrote the book, my company was acquired. We are a $20 billion market cap company with $6 billion in revenue. That’s a little update for you. Executive Hoodlum, to give you a little summation, it’s essentially growing up in an organized crime family, trying to balance the pursuit of higher education and career while dealing with the unfortunate part of the criminal end, which has to do with arrests, violence, subpoenas and untimely accidents that you wouldn’t typically find in your average white collar world.
You grew up in organized crime, you’re running a company with $20 billion and $6 billion in revenues. Tell me a little bit about that transition. What was that like?
It was tough because the company that I came from was a company called Microsemi Corporation. We were acquired for I think about $10.5 billion from a company called Microchip Technology. I handled the Government Relations and Business Development, which mean I did all the interface with the federal government and the state government as well as the interface with all the large prime contractors like say Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman. I keep forgetting all the consolidation that’s happened in the industry. That’s how that transpired. When they acquired us, that was a specific market they had little experience in. They’re very much depending on me to educate them on that market and all the nuances that are associated with that market. It’s not your average commercial marketplace. There are tons of regulation, tons of compliance and there was a lot of government activity as it pertains to the defense bill every year.
You said you grew up in organized crime and now you’re an author. What was it like for your childhood? When did you figure out your family was special or a little unique than the average family? what started triggering for you when you were like, “We are a little different?”
When you say different, that’s being generous. There was a lot of violence. Unfortunately, my father almost beat my mother to death when I was about ten. I ended up in a foster home. She was comatose for several weeks. At the time, apparently they did not screen the blood. When she actually survived, which was very much against the odds, she contracted hepatitis B from a bad blood transfusion. After that, once again we were in foster homes. When we got out, she wasn’t the same. Within three years, she took to alcoholism and essentially drank herself to death. I had to move in with my father’s family. My father was the one involved in most of the criminal activity.
That was quite the transition. He was a very violent guy. He was a very talented guy, but unfortunately, he used his talents to steal, rob and cheat. Early on, I realized that this is not a normal family. Watching the violence growing up, even as a young boy, I probably saw when I was eight or nine saying, “This is not normal.” It didn’t occur to me until I went to college. I realized how much I was trying to hide my family from my fellow students. As I went to their houses and saw how normal nuclear families live, then I realized that my family was well to the extreme. I’d say I saw a lot of it growing up as a kid, but it didn’t strike home to me until I got to Catholic high school, met some of my students and their families. When I saw how they interacted with their parents and the things they did, then I realized that this was different.There are certain qualities that one has. Some can be learned, others are innate. Click To Tweet
We have entrepreneurs, we have business owners, we have people that want to be authors. One of the biggest challenges I hear is how do you overcome tough situations. You basically redefined your life. You walked away from all your family programming. Where did you find the strength or the courage do those changes?
Growing up on a far more primal level and it probably has to do with an extreme blue-collar childhood or growing up in a blue-collar family. Once again, that’s being generous. It’s on the extreme end of that. There are certain innate qualities that one has. Some can be learned. I think some are innate. When it comes to things like adaptability, mental, physical, emotional toughness, discipline, those can probably be learned, but will and determination are innate. When I went through sports in high school and college, a lot of that helped me to develop some of those skills or characteristics. That was one of the factors more on a primal level.
I did very well in school and in sports. I wasn’t super smart like some of these whiz kids, but that was enough to let the will and determination factors drive me, rather than my ability to earn advanced degrees. I do have a degree, but I believe it’s more primal for me. It is working hard, being disciplined, developing the mental and emotional toughness that you have to deal with any setbacks or obstacles to achieving your goals. That’s how I see it where I was accustomed to bad things happening, untimely deaths, violence, being poor, being on food stamps and stuff like that. My interface with the mob world in Chicago taught me quite a bit about being able to overcome those types of obstacles.
What did the mob teach you? Maybe two quick lessons.
When someone is under extreme duress and they have to answer questions, their words may say one thing and their body language could tell quite a different story. Understanding the technique of what the mob guys used to extract money from their marks, to get the truth out of somebody that’s not paying them off or that owes them money from a gambling debt, these guys pretty much taught me how to recognize the tells. I was on the wrong side of that. That’s in the first chapter of my book where I’m on the hot seat for money that my father actually stole from the mob to the tune of $250,000. My body language needed to match my words or I would’ve been in big trouble. That’s the main thing. Comparatively, anything that’s happened in the board room or in a negotiation pales in comparison to the consequences of failure in that world. The ability to handle that type of stress was also something I got out of that world. It’s not something I would recommend, but I’m being honest on what I pulled out of that.
It’s a great idea to learn to read body language because if you’re not authentic and your words don’t match your actions, people know. The mob probably used different tactics, but when you’re in a negotiation, people can tell when you’re authentic, honest and when you have other motives. The second thing I heard is even when we’re stressed out, we still need to work because it’s so easy to say, “This is happening. That’s happening,” and to get derailed. Regardless of that, it works. You published a book. How did that come about?
The 50th birthday party that my wife threw for me, I came back from a long business trip. I was in Russia and Germany. I had to go to Japan and China and I was on my way back. My birthday was around Memorial Day. She had a party that had quite an eclectic group. She had a lot of corporate executives there from my company. She also had some of the actors and actresses I knew, as well as some high-profile doctors, high-profile attorneys. To give you an idea, I had Vincent Bugliosi at my 50th birthday party, but at the same time, there were a lot of convicted felons there from the outlaw biker world and the mob world.
In fact, there was a guy that later became a confidential informant. My master of ceremonies was Scott Baio, who people mostly know from Happy Days and some of the other series he did. To make a long story short, the radio personality, talk show host Larry Elder is a very good friend of mine. Over the years, I had been telling him things about my life. Apparently, he didn’t quite believe then until he actually went to my 50th birthday party and met all the people that I spoke about over all those years. He came to the realization that everything I was telling was true. He had lunch with me and he said, “John, you really need to write a book.” My first inclination was, “Are you out of your mind? Do you want to get me killed?”
I thought about it and then I said, “Maybe I will do this for several different reasons.” Some selfish reasons and some to get out the story with the hope that it would inspire others to overcome their obstacles. I didn’t think my life was terribly interesting until Larry actually pointed out and said that it could be a good way to inspire others, to overcome obstacles. To characterize that, it’s gratifying work. I was a volunteer boxing trainer for underprivileged kids in a little barrio section of my neighborhood a couple of decades ago and it was very gratifying work. I did that work for about seven years as a volunteer. Seeing these kids grow up and not take the wrong path is very gratifying work. That’s how I would characterize the whole reason behind the book.
Tell our audience how do they find you and how can they contact you?
You can go to www.ExecutiveHoodlum.com. The book is available on Amazon. On my website, there is a direct link to Amazon as well. There’s a lot of media on there that is basically my authentication with some of the stories that you read because I think to your average person that reads it, they would find some of that surreal. I like to have a certain amount of authenticity. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t have specific documentation to not only keep the timeline correct but keep all the events accurate.
Thank you so much, John. Overcoming obstacles, working under stress and then being authentic, so your body language matches your words. Great lessons for any entrepreneur. We do have a Facebook group and you guys need to go and join. It’s Heartrepreneurs with Terri Levine. Be sure you join our Facebook group, download the podcast, subscribe to our podcast and your five-star reviews are always appreciated. Thank you so much for reading. John, thank you for being here.
- John Costello
- Executive Hoodlum
- Microsemi Corporation
- Microchip Technology
- Executive Hoodlum on Amazon
- Heartrepreneurs with Terri Levine – Facebook group
About John Costello