The Profit’s Marcus Lemonis: A Miracle Worker

Marcus Lemonis grew up knowing that his parents adopted him when he was 9-monhs old. Leo and Sophia Lemonis, a Greek couple living in Miami, Florida were open and honest with their son. They explained to him that he was born in war-torn Beirut, Lebanon, in the midst of civil unrest and foreign incursions in 1973.  His parents told him endlessly that he was a blessing in their lives—a gift to them. And, as he grew up surrounded by their love and warmth, and with the understanding of the conditions they rescued him from as an infant, he felt it was he who had received the greatest gift.

Perhaps, understanding Lemonis’ upbringing offers personal insight into the businessman America has recently come to know through the acclaimed reality series, “The Profit,” airing on CNBC. In it, Lemonis swoops in to save struggling businesses and invests his own time and money to do it. Following his parents’ example, Lemonis is candid with business owners about the viability of their troubled businesses. Holding nothing back, he tells them how they got there, and where they are headed if they stay on the same course. Avid viewers of the show can recite the self-created guiding principle Lemonis uses to evaluate of every business—People, process, and product.

Lemonis wasn’t anointed as “The Profit” because his charm and good looks made him stand out at a casting call. He stood out to CNBC executives because he is chairman and CEO of Camping World, the country’s largest RV and outdoor retailer—and Good Sam, the largest RV owners’ organization in the world. And, he stood out because he is considered an entrepreneurial trailblazer with investments in over 100 other businesses. He stood out because he had his own TV show idea similar to the premise of The Profit. And, he stood out because he was willing to go on television and use his own money to finance struggling businesses on a reality show.

marcus lemonis500xLemonis and CNBC President, Mark Hoffman met for the first time in New York City. Thirty minutes at 30 Rock was all that was needed. The network identified a need: satiating mainstream America’s appetite to learn how small businesses become successful. They saw it as a niche market for programming, and had ideas for an entrepreneurial reality show similar to Lemonis’ concept. “I didn’t have to sell them on me or what I was trying to do, it was a really good fit, and I think it has worked for them,” said Lemonis.

According to the ratings, it has indeed worked for CNBC. Season two of “The Profit” finished airing in April of this year giving the network its best quarter in over a decade among the coveted demographic, adults 25-54 years-old. Season three is scheduled to start in October.

The joint venture has worked for Lemonis, too, beyond the notoriety that comes with the show. Camping World, which has 100 RV dealerships around the country, now has an auto division. Lemonis bought two auto businesses, one in each season of The Profit. 1-800-Car-Cash and AutoMatch USA— which claims it “will change the way people find their next pre-owned car”—are two new businesses that were born out of the show and are growing and thriving. “We will continue to grow our RV business and continue to grow our products and services…and we will replicate our model on the RV side on the auto side,” said Lemonis extolling it as Camping World’s latest and greatest initiative.

Lemonis combined Camping World with Good Sam Enterprises in 2010, and currently leads some 7,000 employees with reported sales of close to $3 billion in 2013. He is credited with changing the face of the RV industry as he bought more than 100 RV companies from dealerships across the country turning them into Camping World RV Supercenters.

Candid about what he feels are his character flaws, Lemonis continues to work on being more relatable, a better listener, and more understanding as to why people feel the way they do. Some viewers of “The Profit” may disagree with Lemonis’ self-assessment finding the reality show star to be charismatic and thoughtful.  And, apparently, some Camping World employees find him easy to talk to. Three minutes into the telephone interview with “The Suit,” Lemonis asked if he could have a moment because someone stepped in his office with a problem. He returned to our interview some ten minutes later and apologized. “Sorry,” he said, “I play counselor once in a while.” It turns out a tearful employee went to Lemonis for advice about a problem she was having with her boyfriend. “It’s easy to walk in my office, I don’t have a secretary or some big doorway,” he said, adding that at just 40-years-old, his youth makes him approachable.

When asked if he hears a lot about money problems and personal financial issues from employees, Lemonis responded quickly.  “No, I don’t,” he said.  “I pay people really well…and we have a system in place where if you have hardship you can get a loan, and it’s not embarrassing and it’s not made public.”

At this point, Lemonis shows his own vulnerability. “You know what’s funny, though? This is a really honest moment for me,” he said with sheepish chuckle as he is about to reveal something about himself.  “I am really great at solving business problems, and I’m really great at solving other people’s problems, but I’m not that great at dealing with my own problems.”

“Over the years, people have had this belief that I have this wild level of confidence, this wild level of security, and this wild level of success,” Lemonis says with a laugh. “But in the end, I find myself more insecure sometimes than I’ve ever been. So, I always want people to know that it’s ok to be insecure, that it’s ok to be scared, that it’s ok to be depressed once in a while, it’s ok to feel sorry for yourself. But it doesn’t change the fact that you still have to do your thing.”

lemonis400xLemonis continued on. “Society has created this veil that you have to be superman and superwoman. The number one thing that the show has done for me is it has freed me of having to worry about what people think about me. It’s freed me from having to do something or say something different than what I really feel.”

Being a problem solver is a requirement if you want to be an effective leader according to Lemonis, and “The Profit” is all about problem-solving.  “You have to be empathetic and sympathetic to people, and you have to be humble enough to think it’s important to do that,” Lemonis said. He tries to understand the history of a situation, people’s perspectives—and their pride. “You also have to be willing to put yourself out there and be vulnerable. Too often, people try and create this persona that’s larger than life without any frailties. I have found that the more vulnerable I can make myself to people, the more open and critical I can be of myself, then the easier it is for people to take criticism of their style, or product, or whatever it may be.”

It was through Lemonis’ own struggles that he evolved into his leadership style of today, and he reflects back to a time that was difficult, if not financially devastating for him and for millions of Americans.

“Two-thousand eight and 2009 were the hardest thing that ever happened to me,” admitted Lemonis referring to the epic fail of the U.S. economy. “It takes something very cataclysmic to bring you back to earth.”

Just a few years prior, Lemonis was caught up in what he now considers to be lavish spending—not all that uncommon for a single man in his thirties experiencing sizeable wealth through his own accomplishments.

“As quick as you can make it, is as quick as you can lose it.” Lemonis said as a personal testimony. “So I have a different perspective today, and I also learned about myself. I learned about what my priorities should be and how to focus on the right stuff, and not to let my thinking get out of whack.”

So how does Lemonis bring the fruits of his own experience to aid and assist—better yet, save other businesses? Here’s how.

“When I meet with these small businesses that are on death’s doorstep…I tell them three things,” Lemonis explained:
‘One: You’re on death’s doorstep.

Two: You are about to get life-saving surgery, but I can’t give you any anesthesia, so it’s gonna really hurt.
Three: It’s a painful process. But if you trust me through this you will come out on the other side a lot better.’”

Marcus Lemonis said he performed “self-surgery” on himself in 2008-09. “I learned a skill…that gives me the ability today to look somebody in the face and say, ‘You have no choice but to change.’”

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