A Journey from Lows to CEO Success with Tom Fedro

November 16, 2023
A Journey from Lows to CEO Success with Tom Fedro

Behind a lot of success is a string of failures. But we often do not look at the latter. Yet, if we wish to learn and explore life in a more wholesome way, it is crucial to reflect on the other side of the coin.

That’s what I felt when I talked to a successful name in the business world, Tom Fedro. He is the Co-Founder, President and CEO of Irvine, California-based Paragon Software Group. In several leadership roles in the past, Fedro has led many companies to success, including being a key contributor in six mergers and acquisitions, representing over $700M in value. His book, Next Level Selling, has topped Amazon charts as a #1 Best Seller.

Watch the entire interview by clicking on the thumbnail below or read excerpts in this blog.

A Journey from Lows to CEO Success with Tom Fedro

Of Highs And Lows

David: Tom, you experienced a lot of success and also a lot of lows in your life. Can you draw us into your story?

Tom Fedro: 

It started a long time ago. I was what was called an “Air Force brat”, my father being a fighter pilot. I was born in Zaragoza, Spain, and we traveled around a bit. I was one of four kids, had an idyllic childhood, and grew up in a middle-class Lutheran background Christian home in Colorado, where I went to high school. But for a time, I was directionless. My older brother, on the other hand, was a great athlete. So, I wanted to be a great athlete, too, but I didn’t have an outlet. And this is where God stepped into my life in a big way and gave me basketball. I experienced discipline and consistency. I wanted to go to the University of Denver (DU) there in Colorado, but it was like a dream too far.

When I was a senior in high school, they only recruited on the East Coast. So I thought, now I have to do something else. I went to South Dakota, where I played basketball for two years. And for the first time, they came down to play DU. I had a great game so my parents went and talked to the DU coach, and I ended up getting a full-ride scholarship to the University of Denver since I was great at the game. This was where it started to strike me that if I envisioned goals and pray about them, they could actually happen. That was one of the major valleys that became a peak for me. As a senior, I was captain of the team and we went 28 wins and 4 losses, the best record in the school’s history to this day.

The Golden Boy of The Corporate World

From there, I got into the corporate world, where I had some real highs and some real lows. I was in my early 20s at a company called GRiD Systems that rolled out the first laptop in the world. I was out selling them for $6,000-$7,000 each and ended up having a tremendous sales career at this company and became the golden child. Gradually, I started to believe I was bulletproof, where everything I touched was turning to gold.

When Life Takes Unexpected Turns

I got married at that time to a wonderful lady. We ended up having two children. My career involved traveling worldwide, so my priorities became skewed. I became much more interested in success, the dollars, and the accolades than in taking care of my family. At one point, I was going after an initial public offering where everybody was supposed to make money on stock. It was a beautiful thing.

But my life came crashing down. The IPO never happened. We were 24 hours away from it happening, and it exploded. At that point, I had a million miles on my airline card, but I didn’t even know who my family was anymore. My two young boys were six and three, and I ended up getting a divorce. My sons ended up 1,800 miles away in Iowa while I was in California. We wanted to get them close to my former wife’s parents and grandparents and have a stable life. So, I ended up traveling back and forth on airplanes. It was an unbelievably depressing time. And I brought it all on myself, and I was drinking way too much.

God’s Redeeming Love

It all happened for a purpose. And it all comes back to Romans 8.28, “All things work together for the good of those who love God and call him according to his purpose.”

This is where the Lord was leading me into something different. I finally came to a point where I knew I needed to change my life. By God’s grace again, four years after that divorce, I met my wife of 22 years now, Kerry, and everything changed. I could see how God was bringing something new to transform me.

We were fortunate to have two boys as well. So I’ve got four boys. I gave up drinking 20 years ago. My whole focus has come down to three priorities - faith and family, health and wellness, and wealth building. So this is what I spend my time on after going through this pain.

I am just so fortunate that I’ve got a great relationship with my older children, even though I put them through such a tough time. They’re both incredibly young Christian men out just kicking butt in the business world. One of my younger boys is in high school, and another one is in college, and they are wonderful.

Regardless of what’s going on in your life and the pits of depression, the pits of making poor decisions based on selfish desires and self-centeredness, God can do amazing things. I am blessed.

Three Priorities

David: Wow, what a powerful story. You let God transform you. You asked difficult questions, and now the life you’re living is so much different than what you lived a long time ago. What are your key learnings?

Tom: One has to have the priorities straight. You have to spend time on them and write them down. What do you want out of your life? What do you want to make happen on all those levels with your relationships, with your family and friends, your social circles, and your spiritual life? What is your first priority? It has to be right there and avoid the pain that can come by not listening and being engaged with your faith and family.

Without that, your health and wellness is not going to be good. You have to get your faith and family in order and then health to be of any use to anybody else. With health, you have a thousand wishes. Without health, you have just one.

Finally, I put wealth building as my third priority. I am a businessman and an entrepreneur specializing in high technology and software. It is a gift that God gave me, and that’s a huge part of giving back, having resources, and being able to be a giver. That’s what money can do for you. Get your priorities straight. Make sure you know where you’re headed as an individual, and have faith.

Being Your Future Self

David: Yeah, that’s so important. You have to know where you have it. And we’re going to come to the wealth bit, but let’s focus on where you’re heading right now because you’re a big fan of the “future self” concept. Tell us a bit about that.

Tom: First, I encourage everybody to listen to the “Your Future Self” podcast. It has some amazing tips. I’m a big fan of the future self. But what is the future self? As Peter Drucker put it,

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what we think about is what we are. It’s all about our thoughts and where we want to take our lives.

So the future self to me is looking out three years or five years later and asking — who is that person? Because you were a much different person now than you were. The big key here is to be intentional instead of letting life’s ups and downs dictate where you’re going to be.

The Slow Boil

You decide where you will be, focus, and move forward. And that’s where the whole “future self” concept comes in. It is about vision boards and goal setting, writing things down, or you’re just out there boiling in the ocean of life.

The slow boil that Ben Hardy talks about suggests if there’s no intention, your behavior is going to be unpredictable. You will go in directions you may not even recognize you are going until it’s too late. The future self is what drives your behavior. You should have a good concept of where you want to go that becomes the filter for your behavior. Would your future self be eating this bag of chips if you want to be healthier? Would your future self be watching this particular show or doing this on the internet?

Aligning Your Wishes With God’s Will

David: How does this relate to your faith? Creating your future and your wishes is one thing, but how do you align that with God’s will?

Tom: This comes down to searching your heart. What do you feel? Where are your heartstrings tugging you? Everybody has different talents. You have ideas. You have dreams that are in your heart, in your mind. Where are these coming from? And to do a deep dive on that and discern what God is trying to tell you.

And then spend time working through that and put it down on paper and pray about it. It all comes down to faith. What is faith? One of my favorite verses is in Hebrews 11:1, which says faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. It gives us assurance of things that we cannot see.

If you’re going after your future self and putting it all down on paper, and you’re having God be your partner in designing that, then put your faith to work. All things come together for good again.

David: Do you think this concept is why you are so successful? Is this what changed the game?

Tom: Yes, absolutely. Many verses in the Bible talk about this. Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask and it shall be given, see and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.” These all indicate that it’s up to us to define where we’re going and what we want.

Jesus repeatedly says, “According to your faith, be it unto you.” These are promises from the Bible. The future self-concept and the biblical interpretation mesh very well. This is a concept that we should be embracing as a Christian faith.

What Is Wealth-Building?

David: Speaking of success, I know in the Christian community, sometimes it’s somewhat controversial. Some people say we should be successful. Others say we shouldn’t be successful. Why do you want to build wealth? Why is this part of your success story?

Tom: Once you get past faith and family, health and wellness, wealth building becomes a critical area. When you look at what people are afraid of in their lives, the number one fear is probably death. But also financial security and it worries people. But Jesus always warned against worry. How many hours of your life will you add by worrying about it?

But people are so stuck in this worry that they have an obligation to themselves and their families that they don’t think of giving to others. This is why wealth building becomes an area of priority. I want to be able to have enough resources to be able to offer those resources to the right charities and the right groups that are doing things in the world that need to be done. And it is biblical when you look at the parable of the talents.

The Parable of Talents

The landowner gave five talents to one, two to another, and one to the third person, but one person doubled it. So the master said, “Well done.” The third person buried it in the sand, so he was chastised and thrown out. We all have these talents that we need to be investing in and growing. In some cases, that means growing wealth. In other cases, with the missionary, it means growing his ministry. It depends on the person, what’s in their heart, and what they have to make it happen.

I would remind everyone when we’re sitting back in our rocking chairs, and we’re looking back, to whom much is given, much is expected.

So let’s get out there, build as much as we can, and offer those resources to help.

David: I love that you’re thinking beyond yourself and your success, and you want to build God’s kingdom, you want to leave a legacy. How do you start building wealth, and what is the best strategy to do that?

Tom: Building wealth is all about spending less than you earn, saving, and investing. But beyond that, as an entrepreneur, you’re looking to add value and create new products, services, and ways to help people. That’s where I spend my time. There are all kinds of ways to drive value that can create wealth and screw it up, which I’ve done many, many times. So it’s a matter of experience; it’s a matter of what you’ve been called to do and what you enjoy.

A Golden Advice

David: Can you give us one last piece of advice? How can we live our best life?

Tom: Absolutely. I read the Bible all the time, but I also love James Allen’s book “As a Man Thinketh.” He’s got this beautiful poem at the very first page:

Mind is the master power that molds and makes,

And man is mind, and evermore he takes

The tool of thought, and, shaping what he will,

Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills: —

He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:

Environment is but his looking-glass.

I love that poem, especially that last line. It just goes back to what Jesus is talking about. To your faith, be it unto you. What do you believe you can make happen? We can make so much happen with what’s inside us. We just have to look within. When people say, how do I start this? How do I do this? I don’t get it. It’s a simple question that Dan Sullivan, another one of our mentors, came up with. I think everybody could ask themselves and then get a cup of coffee and a pen and take your time to answer it. And the question is:

“If we were meeting here three years from today and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your life both personally and professionally for you to feel happy with your progress?”

Now, if you answer that question comprehensively and honestly, you will be looking at your future self. And once you can see your future self, what you want, that becomes a filter for all your behavior moving forward. The job is to accelerate that future self and bring it closer, faster. Think really big. That’s the only way to jump out of what they call linear thinking. We’ve got to think much bigger, 10 times bigger than where we’re at today. That’s what the latest book from Ben Hardy talks about. Faith is a confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. It gives us the assurance of things we cannot see. Let’s do it.

Note: Connect with Tom Fedro on LinkedIn and www.tomfedro.com

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