Paul Jankowski | Crain's Nashville

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Paul Jankowski

Background:  

Nashville branding agency New Heartland Group was founded in 2002 by Paul Jankowski in an effort to connect brands in the Midwest, Southwest and parts of the Southeast to their consumers. The agency's quickly-growing client roster includes powerhouses like Pepsi and Pizza Hut, Arby’s, Lipton/Unilever and FedEx. 

The Mistake:

I let the culture of my work environment affect who I was and how I acted at work.

One day I woke up and thought to myself that I was two different people. I was trying to appease my bosses and fit in with the folks at work. I'm talking about doing things like cussing and stuff of that nature, but not anything more than that.

I just remember being on conference calls with my bosses who were based in New York and Los Angeles at the time, and the way those calls were handled and how they treated people. They called people out in front of everyone and demeaned and cussed everyone. That was our environment, and I would try to keep up and stay in that.

Shortly after we had our first child, I recognized that's not who I am. Just like a light switch going on, I changed. I didn't act like that at home, so I decided not to do it at work anymore. My home and my core values were more important.

Don't let your work environment dictate who you are.

The Lesson:

Don't let your work environment dictate who you are. It's the oldest lesson in the world. It doesn't matter if you're 16, 30 or 50, the desire to try to fit in doesn't change. You just need to be more confident in yourself and stand for what you believe in. I was lucky that early in my career and still in my late 20s, I realized I wouldn't change who I am to fit in, and they could take it or leave it.

Since that time, I've had to take other stands. I remember once a big client of mine was really racist and dropping the "N" word, and I told him I just couldn't do it and that he should fire me. I was ready to get fired. With a biracial child, that was a super-sensitive issue for me. He ended up apologizing, and we ended up working together.

I try not to put myself in positions to fail and [try to ensure] that our business does business in a way that reflects my core values and thinking. We want to be known for the excellence of our work – but more importantly, how we do it. I stay rooted in faith, family and doing what I say I'm going to do, and I try to be very transparent.

What you see is what you get. I may not be everyone's cup of tea, and that takes a little while to learn. Some people may not like me, and that's OK.

Follow Paul Jankowski on Twitter at: @pauljankowski1 

Pictured: Paul Jankowski. | Photo courtesy of New Heartland Group

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