Updated: Dec 9, 2020
My next interview of this series, is with Tom Kabbash; Designer, Entrepreneur, Visionary, and Leader. Hope you enjoy, as much as I did!
Me: This is a real treat, and I am so glad we are doing this interview. As you know, I think you are a truly exceptional leader, and you are an example of how good leaders are there for others and inspire people to be the best they can be. This is something you have done for me, like no other person in my life. So, thank you for that Tom.
Me: So, what is your definition of a good leader?
Tom: Good question..... I think a lot of this is about context. Initially, when I think of a leader, I think of people who 'report' to someone, in a corporate setting. There is a 'head' of a group and this person leads people. I don't see myself in that vain. I don't have a company where I am employing people. So, I do not fit this mold. And then, I think what else is a leader, and I think everyone is a leader in their life- whether in a community, family, sports, hobbies, etc... Everyone gets to be a leader somewhere.
Great points Tom makes and so true- " everyone gets to be a leader in their life."
Me: So I know you follow Simon Sinek's work, and I was listening to his podcast and the interview he did with his sister.
This interview reminded me of you a bit. You understand on a deep level, like Simon does, the power of being there for another person. You have shown up for me repeatedly in many of my darkest moments. You were fully present for me, when I was going through my trademark infringement case with my Eyes Cream Shades, you were fully present for me after my dad's passing, and you showed up for me after a car accident coming to help me. You were present for me, after a fire that had devastated my life, and you were present for me many other times, and I remember all of them. The gift of having a person in one's life who shows up during the tough times, and not just the good ones, is the mark of a true leader in my opinion. One never really knows, how many lives they truly touch, unless they are told. I reflect on some of the advise you have given me through the years, which possibly at the time, you may have thought I was not deeply listening, but I was. You have been such an instrumental person in my life, and one of the most inspiring people on my journey. So with regards to Simon Sinek's work- what do you think inspires you about him?
Tom: If anything, it is the ‘Johnny Bravo' story – a fighter pilot goes into an intense situation laying down ground fire to protect ground troops illustrating the type of fearless leader that puts himself at the ultimate risk in order to save others. When I was a kid, in a very limited way, I had the experience of helping someone else and I learned early on, that I felt good by doing so. Simon Sinek's video "Leaders Eat Last," I watched no less than nine or ten times. In his video, he talks about the chemistry in the brain and the chemicals which can become addictive, and can be prevalent in a capitalist culture. Leaders put others before themselves, and I, like many probably, grapple with this concept, as it is a challenging one. How can I be of service to others? How can I get my needs met, and meet the needs of others? With the company I am building, I am manufacturing eyewear domestically, which as you know well, is uncommon. My product is going to be made of plant based sustainably sourced materials. So the concept of putting others first, within the context of my eyewear company- my ego can get attached to the outcome, while I also want to provide beautiful frames for men and women to enjoy and feel good about wearing.
I agree with Tom, in that the concept of being of service to others, while also getting needs met is a challenging one for many. This is why I am asking my next question......
Me: So, some are good at being of service to others, and they can get a bit out of balance in understanding they have needs too. Thoughts on this?
Tom: I do think if it comes from a healthy place, and not an insecurity – it is natural, and there is no need to think about maintaining balance. Sometimes giving can be 'people pleasing' and this is driven by our own insecurity and our own personal issues. We can give and care for others, while taking inventory of our own wellbeing. Within a company, a leader needs to know how to balance the books, or else they can not take care of all the employees, and end up bankrupt. This idea can be the same for myself and managing my own wellbeing.
Terrific insights!! Definitely worth a listen to Simon's "Leaders Eat Last". Also great points that Tom makes on how being of service needs to come from a healthy place- "we can give and care for others, while taking inventory of our own wellbeing." Taking inventory and self awareness is always good.
Me: You, like myself, have a deep spiritual side. Do you think there is a spiritual component to leadership? In my interviews thus far, no one has mentioned God or the spiritual aspect(s) of leadership.
Tom: Yes, I do believe there is a spiritual aspect to leadership. What is spirit.... breathe of life. For me personally, being spiritually fit requires maintenance. Being in a good place spiritually for me is when I am coming from a very positive place, looking for solutions, seeing the greatness in others and being outside myself, outside of looking to have my own needs met. In turn, when I can come from a spiritual place my own needs always get handled. This is often an idealized state or way of being that I strive for. I have found a few ways to recharge and this most definitely takes me out and away from the 'corporate rat race’. Connecting with nature, meditation, outdoor activity and music are some of the ways that help me come from a healthier more spiritually fit place. Connection to other people can also provide me with a spiritual boost. Connection with people or nature. I can get caught up in the game of business and be driven solely by the opportunities of capitalism, money and the successes defined by these pursuits. The struggle is real, haha! With regards to multi-national corporations, if there is a spiritual aspect present in the leadership I would imagine the results could be positive. These large corporations can provide massive levels of assistance, help and product for developing nations, while they also can really be seen as monsters with one thing in mind, profits at all costs. Again, spirituality to me is more defined by nature and life, when a leader not only considers but prioritizes the impacts on our planet, the environment and the wellbeing for our people, and looks at the larger more holistic picture, I can only imagine what the results can be because I am not sure this really exists in our world right now. Many of the corporate problems may even be rooted in the larger issues of spirituality. In our capitalistic society, corporations want to gain more and more for themselves, more for the bankers and the wealthy. Those who look for their own gain, end up betraying others. So spirituality can also come from a moral place, and conscience- what is right versus what is wrong morally. I like to support B-Corporations, the idea of B-Corporations, the corporate by-laws as I understand them, benefit the employees and the environment as a priority over the shareholders where C-Corporations prioritize the shareholders over everything else. I can get tied up between the joy of creating new products for people to love while also having an anger towards our capitalistic system that has generated massive wealth for many. The 'more, more' for ourselves culture is highly addictive. Listening to Simon Sinek's video on 'Leaders Eat Last' , helps me understand this on another level.
I agree with Tom, there is indeed a spiritual aspect to leadership. As Tom shares- spirit is breathe of life. Tom inspires, and he is one of the most spiritually based leaders that I know. I also agree with Tom about our capitalistic society, and large corporate greed. I know many creatives, entrepreneurs, minority owned businesses, small businesses, that reflect upon this, and are frustrated by systems that are not based upon spiritual principles.
Me: So, this brings me to the question of nature and leadership, and how they relate to one another. I love nature, and I know you do too. Do you think there is any correlation to leadership, nature, and creativity?
Tom: What is better than being in nature? I remember growing up in LA, and I would go down to Orange County to surf, so I was going south on the 405, and all the traffic was going north. I remember reflecting upon how I am going into the ocean, at the end of my drive, and these people are all sitting in traffic to go into a room with florescent lights. This has had a profound affect on me and I feel very fortunate to have been able to have this perspective. Even when someone lives in a city, they can experience nature. They can see weeds come through the sidewalk, breathe the fresh air, look at the blue sky/ clouds, .... I think what is important is to have some consistent interaction with nature. To enjoy beauty and nature is part of leadership, and part of being a healthy human. So even walking instead of driving or taking a bus, one can get this connection. As you know, I have been fortunate to have surfed all over the world. Whether I am alone on the Oregon coast, or in South Africa, it is really hard to describe how wonderful I feel. It is such a great feeling, and it changes who I am when I come back home. I value things differently, and many of the decisions I make are different. My perspectives on things are better.
Totally agree, and what Tom shares is deep wisdom- "to enjoy beauty and nature is part of leadership and part of being a healthy human". California is one of the most beautiful states, and whether it is driving down the coast, being by the ocean in San Diego; appreciating art in Laguna; walking the boardwalk in Newport Beach; surfing great waves, as Tom does - those who love California know the vital importance of nature. Home is where the heart is, and many have their hearts in this beautiful state. I totally get on a very deep level Tom's description of his driving down to OC to surf. I agree with what Tom says about perspectives on things are better, when we are able to spend time in nature. My best ideas and perspectives I have gotten while being in nature. To Tom's point, for those who live in a city, they can also experience nature. I was telling Tom about my last interview with Paul Patino, who is the GM of the popular Palm Springs Saguaro Hotel. Paul understands this concept of nature, creativity, and leadership, and put this into action at his hotel. In his employee hallway to the cafeteria, he hired a local tattoo artist to do a beautiful mural on the walls. I will post photos and a bit about the artist, in another blog. It was very inspiring to me, to see a leader of an organization, make this a priority. Rare indeed in the corporate world. This is very special, and totally in line with what Tom shares so eloquently.
Me: There is a great quote from Henry David Thoreau, who is one of my favorites. He wrote Walden, and he says "You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land." Thoughts on this, as I know you are a surfer, and also creative, and an entrepreneur; so I though you would appreciate this question, on many levels...
Tom: That is an awesome quote. I actually have some of Thoreau's quotes at the bottom of my website.
Me: Wow! That is incredible – I love Thoreau!! I will check out those quotes, and put them here to share with others. There is deep wisdom in Thoreau's words. Here are the one's Tom has on his website: “I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements." – Henry David Thoreau. “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who have understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks – who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering.” – Henry David Thoreau.
Tom: Yes, so I never heard the quote you mentioned, and it is really good. There is a lot in there. There is always a goal to be in the moment, and this is a lifelong process. The island of opportunity and looking to the other island, means we never really get anywhere unless we really commit. For me, I did not want to be 'pigeon holed' as 'the eyewear designer', but then decided to double down on eyewear. Sometimes things are right there in our face, and we do not see it- this is when the island of opportunities is looking at the other islands. The name of my eyewear collection - Saunt, comes from the word sauntering. The art of walking. Being present in the moment, and the world we live in along side nature. The process of sauntering- meandering. This is what emerged and it works. The balance and blend of connecting and being with nature, and the experience of being alive.
Having built a successful niche sunglass brand, from the ground up, I know what it takes to build a niche in the eyewear arena. There are always riches in niches, and while some are "monetary" riches, others are riches that can not be "measured" in terms of dollars and cents. And then there are riches in niches that bring forth the fruits of both- the measurable and the immeasurable. The monetary, and the invaluable. Tom will no doubt make this a success in all aspects, as he has the experience, wisdom, creativity, inspiration, spiritual foundation as well as talent, heart, and class. I am so excited for Tom's new endeavor, as I know what a blessing his vision truly is.
Me: So what about passion and the importance of passion in leadership and being creative ?
Tom: I do not think it is just creatives who need to feel passionate about what they are doing- I think it is everyone. We can all draw passion from different things. I myself, need a bigger vision, for what I am up to. After I closed Pleasure Ground Eyewear, I had quite a hard time professionally. I was going through the motions to make a living, and something sparked in me two years ago. The spectrum of experiences has been a process. I wish I had bounced back sooner, with the closure and completion that I needed, as to what had happened. I had a lot of disempowering stories I was telling myself based upon closing the company. To put it simply, we didn’t generate enough sales and interest to keep the doors open and I was sitting in failure, disillusioned to try again. So this next venture, Saunt Eyewear, has been a different experience. I have energy, passion, and also fear but I do not feel pressure. Passion comes from a goal being bigger than self, and also comes from a challenge. I am able to saunter in the context of my business. I am excited that I am able to make sustainably sourced frames, which are stronger than nylon. I do not have the same financial liability since there are no mold costs. I am manufacturing myself domestically so minimums are quite a bit less. So less pressure, all the way around, as you know. Also, nature and conservation is very important to me, so I have the drive, and will do it in a sauntering way and let the brand and product progress organically.
I love what Tom has shared! During and also after my trademark infringement case, I had a very hard time as well. Like Tom, the spectrum of experiences was a process for me, and I wished I had bounced back sooner too. On some level, I did not get the actual "closure" that I wanted, and was extremely disappointed as to how trademark laws really work, but I did go through the process and I did learn a lot. I think with entrepreneurs especially, those who work diligently at creating and building a brand, when it does not "work out" how they had planned or foreseen, there is a period of time that they need to process things, until they can get that passion and inspiration back for something else. Whether it takes a year, or many years, what is important is that they do get it back. I am glad that something sparked in Tom to ignite him into another passion project, as usually the next one is way better than the prior one , as the lessons learned are invaluable. No one can teach heart, passion, inspiration, vision, from a book or in a class.. For those who are blessed enough to embrace the process of discovery, growth, and knowledge; they come out on the other end wiser, and are able to help others who may have gone through something similar. There is a shared empathy and compassion. Many entrepreneurs go though this, and I am glad Tom is brave and vulnerable enough to share his journey. Ultimately, we all want to be whole healthy individuals, and that is something that exceptional leaders like Tom understand fully.
Me: So as you speak about Saunte, and how you will "do it in a sauntering way" – I think of the documentary "Down to Earth" with Zac Efron, where they did a segment in Sardinia Italy on the Blue Zones, and the gentleman they featured, Francesco Paba, sauntered daily. It was really cool, and quite intriguing!!
Tom: Yes, I did see it. It was with Darin Olien too. Great stuff!
For anyone who has Netflix. check out Zac Efron's "Down to Earth." Be sure to watch the segment in Sardinia, with Francesco Paba who "saunters."
Me: So last question, any good podcasts you listen to?
Tom: Rich Roll, and also Finding Mastery Podcast.
Here are the links to Tom's recommended podcasts:
My final takeaways:
I want to thank Tom so much for taking the time to do this interview. I believe like Tom, we are all born leaders, and we all have something unique to contribute. Unfortunately, many do not have someone who sees them for who they really are- their innate gifts, talents, etc... Tom has always been able to see and honor my sensitivity, creativity, passions, and spirituality. So, in essence I think a great leader is one who helps inspire and build others. Ralph Waldo Emerson has said that "our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." Tom does this for me, and I know for many others who are blessed to know him.