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John Catsimatidis’ Book: How Far Do You Want to Go: Lessons from a Common-Sense Billionaire
How Far Do You Want to Go? Do you want to be a millionaire? Some might be happy to just leave it at that, but why stop there? When you have common sense the sky is not the limit, as billionaire owner and CEO of Red Apple Group John Catsimatidis knows.
A book launching event and signing of his book, How Far Do You Want to Go: Lessons from a Common-Sense Billionaire, was held on Thursday, April 6 at 7:00pm at the function hall of The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The event was organized by the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce.
Best known for his supermarket empire that morphed into a real estate and aviation company worth about $2 billion dollars in holdings, he is also the man who saved WABC radio from going under. John Catsimatidis, also known as John “Cats” Catsimatidis, a nickname he acquired during his potential mayoral candidacy back in 2009, is the cat with nine lives that keeps on going.
The evening was a celebration of Mr. Catsimatidis and his incredible accomplishments, both as a human being and as a businessman. His book, with the candid, sage advice he offers, from his humble roots born on the island of Nisyros in Greece to the man he has become today, is a true testament to his community spirit of giving back. He wants everyone to succeed on some level, and he wants you to know that you too through common sense, hard work, and perseverance towards your goals you can.
Welcoming remarks were given by Eftihia Pylarinou-Piper, Senior VP of Red Apple Group and Executive Member of the Board of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce. She thanked all the participating friends and organizations that were part of making this event happen. Among them were AHEPA, Capital Link, Cyprus Chamber of Commerce, EMBCA, Federation of Hellenic American Educators, Hellenic American Bankers Association, Hellenic American Congress, Hellenic Cultural Foundation, The Hellenic Initiative, Hellenic Lawyers Association, Hellenic Medical Society, and Leadership 100. The event had over 350 registrants and participants, and they have sold approximately 500 books already. It is no surprise that John Catsimatidis is loved and respected throughout the community and beyond.
Emmy award-winning TV News Anchor Ernie Anastos gave the opening remarks. He wanted to emphasize the man behind the success: “What you see is what you get. John has all of the qualities that we really want in a human being. This man is one of the hardest working people I know.”
Ernie was honored to have recently joined WABC Radio, which is number 1 in NYC and around the country, and he credits John for that leadership: “When I watch John and I come into the studio often, he never stops. He’s on the phone constantly. He’s talking to people and he’s having meetings. He’s arranging things that get people stirred up and excited, but the interesting thing is that many times when you see the boss, who’s asking people to do things and to organize things, many times they just delegate authority. John does that, but on top of all of that that he does the work. He’s the guy that turns around and works the hardest. You could send John a text at 6am, and he will text you write back. He is constantly working.”
He went on to talk about the values and the work ethic that Mr. Catsimatidis exemplifies, and are part of our Greek culture. He ended his comments with an anonymous quote that embodies the spirit of John’s success as a real trailblazer: “Don’t go where the path may lead. Go where there is no path and leave a trail. That is exactly what John Catsimatidis has done.” Ernie concluded his accolades of John with the Greek word “axios.”
Fr. Alex Karloutsos, Protopresbyter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, introduced John Catsimatidis, the author. Fr. Karloutsos recounted his experience back in 1981, when then Archbishop Iakovos was celebrating 1600 years of an historic moment in Christianity with the Second Ecumenical Council and Nicene creed having been written. At the time there was a meat strike. The Archbishop wanted lamb, and he was told to go to John Catsimatidis for the solution to the meat shortage. In good humor he commented on how he didn’t know this guy, but John had the reputation of “common sense”. Fr. Karloutsos showed up at his door and blatantly told him that there was a problem and that the Archbishop needed lamb. Apparently Rev. Karloutsos, with his own common sense, made a lasting impression on John when he told him that they will pay wholesale for it, and it was lamb they got. The day was saved through the generosity of John Catsimatidis.
Rev. Karloutsos went on to say that “John knows how to make money. He knows how to get the money. It’s common sense. That’s how intelligent he is.” He did what others were reluctant to do. He bought a struggling radio station worth 300 million dollars for 12 million dollars. He knew nothing about the radio industry. He bought WABC in what to him was a bargain deal, knowing nothing about the radio industry. He said he would bring in the right talent, work hard, and will make the money. It is the number 1 radio station now. Others could have done this too, but but he did it with common sense and perhaps a bit of fearless bravado. It not only takes intelligence, but confidence. Great leadership has both. More importantly, Fr. Karloutsos wanted to emphasize John, as a man of character, and a human being that cannot be measured by dollar signs. He quoted the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling to end his introduction of the man we were all there to hear speak from the gut: If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue or walk with kings nor lose the common touch. If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you. If all men count with you but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And-which is more-you’ll be a Man, my son.
It was time for the man of honor to speak, and he spoke from the heart. He thanked his wife Margo whom he referred to as “the sunshine on his life” and always makes him smile. He thanked his longtime friends Ernie Anastos and Fr. Alex. He thanked everyone that came out. He also honored the memory of his forefathers, his father, his grandfathers and his mother. People ask him why he wrote the book. He mentioned that a few years ago, the country of Greece made a stamp in his honor. He was reluctant at first, but he wanted to leave something for his family, and for the spirit of his grandfathers who are watching over him to be proud of the family name. The book is part of that legacy he is leaving behind. In his own affectionate humor, he added that “they came over in 1913 to find the streets of gold. It took me over 100 years to find it. The one thing my father and grandfather taught me is the fact that never do anything that is going to ruin the family name. I try to live by that and teach me children that.”
He also didn’t change his name from Catsimatidis to Cats. “The Hellenes have always been proud,” he stated, and “I can’t believe the country of Greece has gone down to 9 million people. There was a brain drain, but all of us that are outside of Greece should never forget the land of our forefathers. And that is a good reason I wrote the book. At least, I have something written down for my grandchildren.”
John Catsimatidis is a man who is both proud and humble, a quality that can only manifest itself in great leaders. He never forgets his roots nor where he came from on 135th street in Harlem. He has been actively involved with the Police Athletic League of NYC for over 40 years, a charitable arm of the NYPD that dedicated to youth development. He goes into inner city communities as a mentor to children. One day, one of those children might read his book on their journey to success, and maybe one of those children will become tomorrow’s billionaire that gives back to their community. To the Greek children in our community he had some great words of wisdom to offer them on their journey toward success, whatever that success may mean to them: “Don’t make the top just the Greek community. Make the top the entire American community. Seek to go to higher places.”
He mentioned his son and daughter who could not join him that evening, and he left us with some words of heartfelt sentiments: “I love you all. I don’t care if you are a busboy or a professor.” John himself started out as that bus boy and dropped out of NYU, eight credits shy of graduation. Though being a professor was not in his cards, he is still using his intelligence and common sense, whether it’s to buy and save a company from going under, as he did with D’Agostino’s Supermarket, or to invest in athletic pursuits. His latest venture is a partnership with the New York Yankees to build a minor league stadium in Staten Island, and, as he jokingly added, “who would ever say not to the Yankees?” Certainly not “the Cat” with his nine lives of business acumen and common sense going strong.
The evening ended with a book signing. At his side was “the sunshine of his life”, the lively and spirited Margot, assisting him. While we can’t reveal all the great tips and advice the book has to offer aspiring billionaires, we know that after listening to him speak we can’t go wrong with hard work and common sense, especially if we learn it directly from the man who’s been there, and is still there, at the top of his game.