Leaders as Humble as They are Successful

Refreshingly candid conversations with some of today's most humble leaders. Adam Kaufman dives into topics often left unexplored. His guests’ challenges, fears, and motivations show what it takes to become a humble leader.

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Scott Wolstein: Creating Consensus and Leading with Compassion

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Scott Wolstein has presided over a real estate empire with billions invested in the ground all over the United States. However, his legacy is about investment in people. Scott has always strived to be a compassionate person, but in recent years, his focus has shifted further toward his family and his philanthropic efforts. Listen in to find out how his faith both informs and confirms his drive for excellence in business and compassion for the people in his life.

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Adam Kaufman:
Hi, I'm Adam Kaufman. Welcome to another episode of Up2. Eight years ago, we started as a live event series, which showcased leader who I thought were as humble as they are successful. The humility piece is very important as we identify these leaders who can hopefully inspire others. We really focus our interviews on the non-business aspects of their lives, and we found that there's a real thirst to explore their hearts and their minds in maybe atypical ways.

Adam Kaufman:
Today, I'm sitting down with Scott Wolstein. He's a national leader in commercial and retail real estate development. He led a company that grew to the level that could only be considered the very top in his field of work. He oversaw a real estate empire with more then 500 properties in nearly all 50 states in the U.S.. At a young age, he was the CEO of a company he took public, responsible for billions in transactions, all while being an engaged father of four. He's very active in his faith, and he is also one of the most philanthropic individuals I've ever met, supporting a wide range of charities in healthcare, education, children, and the Jewish community. He's owned a professional sports team, and he's always willing to take risks in pursuit of grand ideas.

Adam Kaufman:
He graduated from Wharton, routinely named as the top business school in the U.S., and also has a law degree from the University of Michigan, annually ranked among the top law schools in the country; this guest is much smarter than me. Never satisfied with his achievements, he continues to innovate in real estate development, all while remaining strikingly humble about where he is in life and trying to lift up others around him.

Adam Kaufman:
I'm so pleased to have some time today to talk with Scott Wolstein, CEO of The Wolstein Group, and the former CEO of Starwood Retail Partners, and prior to that chairman and CEO of DDR, Developers Diversified. First, we'll talk a bit about his childhood. We'll move into his views on hard work and how he started his career making $1 an hour. We'll talk about how he defines success, and who had some of the most powerful influence in his life. We'll get into the topic of leadership and how genuinely caring for others can help carry us through some of the most difficult times in our lives, and finally some of Scott's charitable pursuits. I'm glad you're with us today, we'll be right back.

Adam Kaufman:
During the first season of Up2 podcast, I had several companies and entrepreneurs approach me about potential partnerships, but I'm really selective before choosing to do something like that. One choice we did make happily is to partner with VividFront, a full service digital marketing and website design agency based in Cleveland, that works with both local and national brands. They've built their entire client base on referrals, and they've won a lot of awards including the 2019 Ink Magazine Top 5000 Fastest Growing Companies, NorthCoast's Top Places To Work, and several others. They're known for their talent, they're known for their creativity, they're known for their culture, a firm I like before we agreed to partner together for this show. Check out vividfront.com, or you can email me and I'll introduce you to their dynamic leader, Andrew Spott.

Adam Kaufman:
Scott Wolstein, welcome to Up2.

Scott Wolstein:
Happy to be here.

Adam Kaufman:
What have you been up to?

Scott Wolstein:
Just enjoying life, you know. Trying to develop some real estate in Cleveland, and also trying to buy back some of the real estate I left years ago from my old company, so I've been pretty busy.

Adam Kaufman:
I'm so grateful that we were able to spend a little bit of time together today; I know even this evening you have some other commitments. So, one of my mentors, Scott, often talks about we're all born into somebody else's story. Whose story were you born into?

Scott Wolstein:
Well, I was born into a family with a self-made man, who was very charismatic. My dad was a really interesting, bigger than life figure. He had a very different life than I had; he grew up in a poor family in Cleveland, his dad was a cloth cutter at a clothing factory for Dalton Dalton, I think was the company, and he enlisted in the Navy out of high school. He went to college on the GI plan for two years at Cleveland College at night while he worked for my grandfather and my uncle during the day, and he built a very, very successful business and created a fortune from his own bootstraps.

Scott Wolstein:
You know, I had a little different story. I was able to go to a nice suburban high school in Beechwood and then Hawkins School, and as you said, you know, the Wharton School and University of Michigan. I had parents who could afford to pay my tuition, so very, very different life paths. But we did end up doing a lot of fun things together.

Adam Kaufman:
Well, this is already the humble you coming out, because I know many people, and I'm certain you do too... There are plenty of affluent children of successful parents who still don't accomplish much with their own lives, yet you had this drive to create your own story. Do you think that came from your parents, or was that just how you were wired?

Scott Wolstein:
I think it's a little of both. You know, I think observing my dad and seeing the drive that he had to succeed, and he was a great motivator. I remember when I played high school basketball, he never thought I shot enough. He said, "You need to show more desire," and that was the kind of motivation I got from him, you know. It finally got the point where I said, "Dad, you know what, if you don't like the way I play, don't come to the game." The next game, he didn't come, and I think I hit 12 out of 20 from the field, scored 24 points, was leading score in the game, and called him out to the game. He said, "How'd it go?" I told him, and he couldn't have been more upset that he missed it. But he-

Adam Kaufman:
Hopefully he started coming back.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, but he was a great... Yes, he did; he didn't miss many games. But he was a great motivator, and you know, luckily for me, I didn't grow up with a silver spoon. When I was a kid, he was still struggling to make it, and I started working on his construction jobs where he was building homes in Twinsburg when I was 13.

Adam Kaufman:
Twinsburg, a suburb of Cleveland here in Ohio, right?

Scott Wolstein:
Yes, it's halfway between Cleveland and Akron, and my dad was a bit of a visionary. He started building homes there before anybody knew Twinsburg existed, and now it's a pretty thriving community between Cleveland and Akron. But I worked hard labor on the job, learned the construction business from the ground up. I got to learn how each trade did their bit in building a home, and in between each trade I would clean the house. I think when I applied to college, probably the most gratifying recommendation letter I got from anybody was from the foreman on the construction job where I worked, on the housing development site. I'll never forget what he said in this recommendation letter; he said, "The greatest recommendation I give for Scott is that in all the years that he worked for me on the construction job, nobody knew he was the boss's son." You know, that meant a lot to me because that's just... That's how I was wired and that's how I was brought up, so-

Adam Kaufman:
So I'm really interested in this. Was it a mandate that you worked on the home sites when you were in high school, or that was your idea, or is that just, "We're Wolsteins, so this is what we're all doing together?" I ask because I had the chance to meet Abigail Disney a couple years ago, all of us in America know what that family is known for, and she talked about how frustrating it was because she wanted to make her own mark in a different line of work. She didn't want to make children's movies, and it was very hard for her. Was your future set for you?

Scott Wolstein:
No, my future wasn't set for me, but I do think that... I looked at the ability to make a dollar an hour on a construction job as a great opportunity. It maybe seems a little strange looking back, but not too many people at 13 had the opportunity to go make money. I never was afraid of work; to me, hard work is very gratifying, so I looked at it as a great privilege. But no, my path wasn't made for me. In fact, it's an interesting-

Adam Kaufman:
You became a lawyer, right? You actually went to a law firm.

Scott Wolstein:
Exactly. You know, when I graduated from law school, my parents wanted me to go work in the family business, and I said to my dad, "Someday, I hope to work with you, but I'm never going to work for you. I'm going to do my own thing-

Adam Kaufman:
You said that?

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah.

Adam Kaufman:
That's pretty bold.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah. Well, you know, that's how I felt. I just didn't feel like... If I went to work for my dad, I couldn't bring anything to the table that he didn't already know. I would learn from him, but I could only learn what he knew.

Adam Kaufman:
I guess that's true, yeah.

Scott Wolstein:
By getting out on my own in practicing law and making relationships and learning things, I could bring something to the table that he wasn't able to do, and I think it kind of worked out that way. I think... Actually, he was very supportive of my decision. He never had the opportunity to work for a big law firm and so forth, and I think he enjoyed being a part of that. I think it was my mother that was a little less supportive. She really was a great defender of my dad and she wanted me to be in the business, and there was an office waiting for me and I got that, but I just felt like I needed to make my own way in the world. That was just the path I chose, and it all worked out well. We did do a lot of really good things together.

Adam Kaufman:
These dynamics with the family; your mother's personality, your father's personality... Have you ever reflected on how did that family unit define success? And then, how did your family, as your kids got a little bit older, how did you guys define success?

Scott Wolstein:
That's a really tough question. Obviously, financial success was always a great metric, but I think that in terms of my own family I tried to diminish that to some degree, because financial success can be fleeting, and it also can bring with it tremendous responsibilities and financial obligations, which then become sort of a prison, if you will. You've-

Adam Kaufman:
Complexities, pressure.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, you've created a world that you have to live in whether you like it or not, and I don't really want my children to follow that path. I want my success to give them the opportunity to feed their passions without being under the pressure of being measured by how many hundreds of thousands or millions of-

Adam Kaufman:
Homes, number of homes.

Scott Wolstein:
Homes or whatever... I found myself coming out of the recession owning five homes, and that was quite an albatross. I wasn't happy about it, I never thought it would be an issue.

Adam Kaufman:
That's a lot of inventory.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah. But in the recession, I suffered a tremendous loss as most people did, and you never really make your plans viewing that as your future. Then all of a sudden, you've still got the obligations but maybe you don't have the same resources.

Adam Kaufman:
We're now moving into a subject that I often speak to our guests about, and that is these unintended consequences of success, whether it's entitled children, which... We want the best for our children; I'm sure your parents talked about this with regard to you, and now you with your kids. But there are a lot of factors that go into the "It's lonely at the top" phrase. It's a true phrase, and the higher the top, the lonelier it can be, whether it's financially lonely or personally lonely. And so, I want you to know that I agree with you that the trappings of financial success can be just that, trappings.

Scott Wolstein:
Exactly, yeah. It can actually be a bit of a prison in and of itself, which it's not easy to get out of. You have to earn your way out of it, which fortunately I've been able to do, but it's really not a path that I would necessarily recommend to the next generation.

Adam Kaufman:
Isn't that interesting? Yeah. I was really impressed when we sat down prior to today about how much of an impact your parents have had on your life. Are their other people beyond your parents that were really influential as you were growing up, whether in school or as a young professional?

Scott Wolstein:
Well, I was very close to my grandfather, my maternal grandfather. He was a first generation American who immigrated to the United States from Lithuania, and when I worked on the construction jobs he would pick me up at 6:00 in the morning, and we would drive to work every day, because he worked selling houses on the job. We had hundreds and hundreds of hours to talk about his life, and how he came over to the United States when he was 13 years old and didn't speak a word of English, and how he had to make his way. We were very, very close, and those moments I really treasured. I'll never forget probably one of the most meaningful moments; I was sitting at my parents' house at the pool with my grandfather, and he was probably in his early 80s, mid 80s at the time, and he looked at me and he said, "Scott, you know, everything that happens in my life from now on is gravy. I've already accomplished everything I want," and he was not a very, very wealthy man. He had some success and some reversals in his life, but he measured success through the love of his family. He sat there at the pool with me and my mother, his daughter, and my dad, and-

Adam Kaufman:
It doesn't get any better, he was thinking.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah. What a great way to feel, what a wonderful message that he gave me. So yeah, he had a huge impact on my life.

Adam Kaufman:
Has that helped you stop and smell the roses once in a while, and not just rush to the next deal or the next transaction, the next opportunity? Has that ethos of your grandfather stuck with you after all these years?

Scott Wolstein:
I really think it has. I mean, I really do spend a lot of time by myself and I enjoy sitting in the sun, listening to music, and just contemplating... I think I've had a great capacity to compartmentalize my life. Even when I have tremendous pressures, I can put them aside and still enjoy my friendships, enjoy recreation, enjoy my family and what have you. Yeah, I think I did learn that from him.

Adam Kaufman:
In preparing for today, I read somewhere that you say that your toughest character flaw is that you're an eternal optimist, but why is that a flaw? I think... Is optimism ever bad?

Scott Wolstein:
Well, yeah, it is because when you're investing in opportunities and everything looks good, you know, you're going to make some mistakes.

Adam Kaufman:
Oh, I see. Too rosy glasses, maybe.

Scott Wolstein:
My dad's high school classmate, Albert Radnor, who's a major real estate mogul, an icon from our community, he made a speech once; it was one of the funniest things I've ever heard. He says, "They have a new phone line, it's called Developers Anonymous." He says, "You can call it 24 hours a day, and you explain your deal and they talk you out of it."

Adam Kaufman:
Oh my gosh, very sobering phone call.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, and that's kind of... You know, in the real estate business, everything can look good on paper, and you can just move a few numbers around and make it look better if it doesn't look great at first blush. It really is a discipline to be able to look at the other side and say, "What can go wrong," because it's very easy to convince yourself that everything is going to work just exactly the way you planned.

Adam Kaufman:
In addition to the optimism, you're also know to be an effective consensus builder, and I imagine... one has to build a lot of consensus when you're creatively thinking about a new development in your line of work. Government officials, local community leaders, investors, you have to build a lot of consensus.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, and if you're good at that and you can sort of endear yourself to other people, it is much easier to succeed.

Adam Kaufman:
You're right. I actually think consensus building is the most important underrated trait of a good leader, building consensus

Scott Wolstein:
Anytime that I've been asked by a group of younger people, "What was the most important ingredient in your success," I always say it's to get other people to want you to be successful, because if people want you to fail they can make you fail. I mean, a great example of that right now is our president. He's a very capable, very bright guy obviously-

Adam Kaufman:
You went to the same university.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, we both went to Wharton. But he's very abrasive and he doesn't necessarily endear himself to other people, and a lot of people want him to fail. It makes it much more difficult for him to be successful. I remember-

Adam Kaufman:
Not a lot of building of bridges.

Scott Wolstein:
No. Look, I remember Ronald Reagan when he was president, and he came up and he was... His views were very polarizing, and at first considered radical. But by the time he left office as president, it wasn't difficult for him to develop a consensus with the Congress on a number of issues because he was an endearing figure. His personality was very open, and he made people want him to be successful. I think that's really important, I think it's critical.

Adam Kaufman:
I love your passion for consensus building. Can you think of a time in your career where maybe you did not effectively build consensus?

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, I could, because I ran a public company for 20 years, and there were times where I probably was critical to a fault with security analysts who were challenging our business strategy, and maybe more defensive than I otherwise could have been.

Adam Kaufman:
So these were experts rating your stock or your performance of your business?

Scott Wolstein:
Yes, and we would have quarterly conference calls where we would have all the analysts on the call, and they would ask questions... I have to say, before Enron those analysts used to be really brilliant, very well compensated. They used to get a piece of every deal on an IPO. After Enron, they created a Chinese wall between the analysts and the investment bankers, and they-

Adam Kaufman:
Enron and MCI, a few of those.

Scott Wolstein:
So they make a lot less money today, and they're not quite the same in terms of experience and capability, but-

Adam Kaufman:
No offense to any of the analysts listening to our podcast today.

Scott Wolstein:
Well, it is... They would understand.

Adam Kaufman:
Yeah, different line of work.

Scott Wolstein:
They know they make a lot less money. It got to the point where I felt like a lot of the security analysis was more about gotchas and headlines and trying to make a name for themselves, you know, and I took offense to that. If I had to do it over again, I probably would have been a little genteel and understanding, and probably not quite as abrasive in that context.

Adam Kaufman:
Do you think you've become thicker skinned? If this is what you're describing, you were a little too thin-skinned if that's right, so have you learned how to just roll with the punches a little bit better? If there's an article in a newspaper, a lot of your moves are written about in the media, does that mater to you? Do you read all those news stories?

Scott Wolstein:
I don't really take too much offense to that kind of stuff, to be honest with you, and I do think that, just like a sharp edged stone that rolls down in the ocean... those sharp edges get kind of rounded off over the time. So yeah, I think I'm... You know, I also... gotten beat up a few times by circumstances.

Adam Kaufman:
Of course, you're in the arena.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, and I understand what can happen, and think that that's healthy. I mean, it's a bit of wisdom that you develop, you know. It's very, very easy to be sort of gratified when success is at your fingertips. When things get tough, it changes your approach, and I remember during the recession when I watched our stock of our public company drop, from $72 a share at the peak to... I think it went down to like $1.56 at the bottom, and I had a whole group of people working for me, about 1,000 employees, who were wondering if they were going to get their next paycheck. I think that was probably the most important period of my life in terms of being a compassionate leader.

Adam Kaufman:
People were watching you, depending on you.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, and I had a meeting periodically, every month, with every department, with all the people in the department, and I gave them the opportunity to ask me questions about the business, the strategy, how we were going to get out of this difficult situation, and I think it was cathartic to some degree. But it's something that I think everybody should have to go through to be a great leader because, again, it's great to be a leader of men when you never lose a game.

Adam Kaufman:
Well, what you were describing, I call that pruning. It's like the biblical concept of pruning; if a plant could talk, it would say "Ouch" when you're pruning it. So you were being pruned at that time, $72 down to $1, but successful pruning makes the plant even stronger, even prettier.

Scott Wolstein:
Yes, and nobody in the company was being adversely impacted even a fraction of how I was, because I had a major, major investment in the company. But, you, know, I wanted the company to be successful and I wanted to let everybody know that I cared about them, and I understood their concerns and their fears. I mean, it was a scary time. I mean, it was a scary time for everybody, not just my employees.

Speaker 3:
You are listening to the Up2 podcast. We'll be right back.

Adam Kaufman:
Hello, my name is Adam Kaufman and I'm thankful you're joining us today on the Up2 podcast. I want to tell you about a group that I'm grateful for, and that's TownHall, Cleveland's most popular restaurant, and one that I can say is the only place my wife tells me she can eat every meal; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. TownHall was the first all non-GMO restaurant in the U.S. a few years ago, and they're now expanding into Columbus, Ohio soon. I'm also very selective about who we choose to partner with for this podcast, and it was with open arms that I embraced the idea of partnering with Bobby George and TownHall. To learn more about what they're up to, you can visit townhallohiocity.com.

Adam Kaufman:
Right now, I'd like to take a moment to talk to you about Calfee, Halter, and Griswold, a full service corporate law firm with attorneys throughout Ohio and in Washington, D.C.. Calfee's mission has been to provide meaningful legal and business council to entrepreneurs and investors, private business owners and non-profits, public corporations. I've referred many successful entrepreneurs and investors to Calfee knowing how well they'd be taken care of, and it's for those reasons that I would encourage you to visit their website, calfee.com. That's C-A-L-F-E-E, .com. Thank you very much to Calfee.

Speaker 3:
Welcome back to the Up2 podcast with Adam Kaufman. Our guest today is Scott Wolstein.

Adam Kaufman:
During that tough period, do you think your faith at all played into how you behaved, or the types of decisions you made or the priorities? How does your faith inform how you live?

Scott Wolstein:
My theology is really about being empathetic and caring about other people. We actually just had Rush Hashanah, the head of the year holiday, and the sermon was very interesting. The rabbi talked about two kinds of Jews; the Purim Jews and the Passover Jews. The Purim Jews talk about a story of military victory and power and to be very successful, and the Passover Jews talk about when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and the suffering that went on; it teaches you the empathy. My mother turned to me during the sermon; she says, "Which one are you?" I said, "I think I'm both," and then sure enough the rabbi said, "In order to be a Jew, you have to be both." I said I was very prophetic.

Adam Kaufman:
I bet she laughed.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, but it was very true. You need to be a Purim Jew and a Passover Jew, you have to... It's great to understand power and to want to be successful, but it also is important to understand the underdogs, and be empathetic and understand how other people are trying to work their way through life.

Adam Kaufman:
Well, this empathy, I was really impressed with when you and I recently sat with somebody else in a business context. Your empathy just really stood out to me, and that's when I thought I'd love to have you on the show. Do you think that empathy can be learned, or is that something we're born with, or can we try to get more empathetic?

Scott Wolstein:
You know, that's a very good question. I don't know. I would think that when we're born, we're sort of a piece of clay that can be molded, and you're probably-

Adam Kaufman:
So it's a combination.

Scott Wolstein:
-determined a little bit by the circumstances in your life.

Adam Kaufman:
It's a common nature versus nurture question, and I don't think there's one right answer, but I wanted your view on it because I love your empathy, I can see it.

Scott Wolstein:
Well, you know, it's really interesting right now in the political arena where we're dealing with capitalism versus socialism, and you know, we have a whole movement now which comes up time and again in history where we say the way to be empathetic is to make everybody equal. But the truth is that I think people who are very successful in life are usually very empathetic, and the Bill Gateses and the Warren Buffetts-

Adam Kaufman:
Yeah, the giving pledge.

Scott Wolstein:
I was just talking the other day to a guy who used to run the family office for Al Lerner, and he changed his profession because the family office became purely philanthropic. That's a lot of what happens with people who are very successful, and I do think they get a bad rap in the sense that people think they're greedy, but they're greedy in trying to achieve success. But once they achieve success I think the empathy comes out, and I think as a country and as a culture the last thing we want to do is to try to jeopardize that, because that's really where we do champion the underdog and provide a safety net. It isn't really, in my view, from the government, is from philanthropy.

Adam Kaufman:
Right, and Americans are known as a very philanthropic country on a per capita basis, and there has been some positive trends in terms of social entrepreneurship, or startups that have some greater good in mind in addition to just selling some sort of widget, so I agree with you on that. Part of your empathy comes out... I know you have an interest in Africa.

Scott Wolstein:
Correct.

Adam Kaufman:
What's going on in Malawi? What have you been up to there?

Scott Wolstein:
Well, several years ago, I guess about 15 years ago, my wife at the time and my children went to Africa. We spent time on a safari, and we saw how other people lived and the different culture, different circumstance. My wife felt that it wasn't fair that my children were advantaged because they were born in the U.S. and-

Adam Kaufman:
Just the luck of where they were born.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah. They were born in the United States and they were born to a successful father, and she felt that all children should have that same opportunity. We created a school in the very poorest area, probably one of the poorest areas of the world. Just to give you a backdrop, we're talking about a place where the average income is a dollar a day, life expectancy at birth is about 40, people live in houses they built with their own hands, and they have no running water and no electricity.

Adam Kaufman:
The things we take for granted in the U.S..

Scott Wolstein:
And the thing about it which was so striking to me, and still is every time I go there, is that these children are happier than our children.

Adam Kaufman:
Isn't that interesting?

Scott Wolstein:
They are the happiest children I've ever been around. They don't take anything for granted, and it seems like they love life. Now, they all have a great family system; the culture over there is very, very religious and very family centric, and there's a lot of love between the parents and their kids. But before we got there, that was their world. Their world was the girls got to be 13, they'd have a baby, and they would be expected to help around the home, and the boys would help on the farm. That was their future, that was their life, the circle of life. We built a school and we educated about 3,000 children-

Adam Kaufman:
Wow, congratulations.

Scott Wolstein:
-at any given time, and we actually have put now children through high school into college, and we have people studying engineering and law and medicine and what have you.

Adam Kaufman:
What a success story.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah. They didn't even know what they were missing before, but boy, when you talk to them now and you go to the schools and you meet the kids, and you say, "What do you want to be in life," they don't say, "I want to help on the farm."

Adam Kaufman:
When you're helping somebody with their education at that level into college, you're not only helping that person but think of the generational change that you could be affecting. Their kids will now be in a different situation since they went through college; that's legacy right there.

Scott Wolstein:
Well, our greatest dream is that some of them will become very successful and come back, and help the communities that they came from just like we are.

Adam Kaufman:
You could have interns, maybe, in one of your companies or something.

Scott Wolstein:
Absolutely, absolutely. You know, there's a Disney movie that just came out called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and we've actually met him. He's from the area where we operate, and it's fascinating because... I think intuitively we think that when people are very poor, they probably aren't as smart as we are, but it's just not true. This particular boy lived in a village, he went to a junkyard, and he took a bunch of junk out of the junkyard and created a windmill that created electrical power for his village. His father thought he was wasting his time and he fought him every step of the way, and he created electricity. I couldn't have done that when I was his age, and I'm sure my children couldn't either. It was funny; he actually came to Cleveland and spoke at Case Western Reserve.

Adam Kaufman:
Oh, I didn't know that.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, and he said, "You know, I wish I knew about this Google thing. It would have been a lot easier."

Adam Kaufman:
Well, you're going to help identify the next him or her with your-

Scott Wolstein:
Help Malawi.

Adam Kaufman:
Help Malawi, okay, and we'll put the website in our show notes afterwards, so people can visit your website.

Scott Wolstein:
Well, thank you, yeah. It's helpchildren.org, and you know, it's a wonderful place in the world because these people are not poor because of corruption, they're not poor because of war and anything else. They're just poor because of circumstances; it's the climate, it's the environment they live in, and what have you. They're very, very nice people, and it really is gratifying to see what we've been able to do there.

Adam Kaufman:
In addition to that project, you've been on the board of lots of big institutions; the Red Cross, universities, hospitals... How do you decide what to get involved in? I'm sure people come at you with a lot of different opportunities. Is there some thesis behind your decisions, or is it more of a gut feeling, or is it the people who are behind what's being asked?

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, it's a little bit of all of those things, and it's also a little bit of my family tradition. I think that my parents have always favored education and healthcare as two areas that they thought-

Adam Kaufman:
So you've adopted some of those priorities?

Scott Wolstein:
I really have, yeah. I was-

Adam Kaufman:
Do you think your kids, excuse me, are thinking about those categories yet? The next generation, they do have some of their own philanthropic ideas, causes that they care about, which is great to see.

Scott Wolstein:
Well, all of my kids went to Africa, spent several months at the school and volunteered, so they all have firsthand gotten a taste of what that's all about. I think that was hugely important in terms of their development, and I think... I'm really glad that they've all had the opportunity to do that. For those who haven't been exposed to that kind of environment, it really is life changing.

Adam Kaufman:
Well, I know we took our kids... For years, I would preach to our kids about the importance of caring for others, like most parents want to talk about, but it's really hard for the children to get it unless... In your case, you take them to Africa; in our case, we took them three miles away from where we are right here. My wife and I took them to a very urban church that was doing much more than preaching; it was doing basically what we'd think are government services, and afterwards the kids could see firsthand how if they put their $20 towards one more computer for after school at that church... That hands-on visualization really can inspire young people.

Adam Kaufman:
Do you think much about legacy? Your name, your family name, is on a number of buildings, a number of projects. Have you begun to think at all about your legacy?

Scott Wolstein:
It's funny you mention that, because I can't tell you how many times people call me up and ask me if I can get them tickets to a concert at the Wolstein Center, and I said, "Other than the fact that my parents' name is on the building, I don't have any more to do with it than you do."

Adam Kaufman:
That's hilarious. People call you, though, and...

Scott Wolstein:
Yes.

Adam Kaufman:
Try to get the Jay-Z tickets.

Scott Wolstein:
Yes, and people will send me a picture when they're at Ohio State football game, and there's a sign on the bell tower that says Iris and Bert Wolstein Football Center. I'm very proud of my parents for everything they've done, it's great. The Wolstein name is everywhere in the community right now; it really is to celebrate their achievements.

Adam Kaufman:
What about your own legacy? We're reflecting now on your parents and that's the humble you, but have you begun to think about, if not legacy, who's watching you right now?

Scott Wolstein:
Well, probably what I am most proud of, in terms of business achievements, is the developments that I've done in downtown Cleveland on the Flats East Bank, which...

Adam Kaufman:
How many square feet is all of that currently? I know it's going to be growing.

Scott Wolstein:
Over a million square feet currently.

Adam Kaufman:
That's a pretty big project.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah. Today, we've got about a half a billion dollars in the ground, and we'll probably double that. But it really isn't about the dollars or the square footage. What it is about was that my dad and I had a vision that we could create a live, work, and play community that would make Cleveland a viable alternative as a place for young people to actually put their stake in the ground and start a career. You know, it wasn't always that way. The kids would go to Chicago or New York or San Francisco or Atlanta, or what have you-

Adam Kaufman:
Brain drain.

Scott Wolstein:
-and I actually think now, the Flats East Bank is so much fun, it's a cool place to live, that we're actually keeping people in the community that are really bright and have great ideas.

Adam Kaufman:
So that's part of your legacy.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, that probably is something I'm probably most proud of; I've been able to do that with my mother. Unfortunately, my dad passed away before we broke ground on the project, and my mom and I have been partners. Her entire life is about fulfilling my dad's legacy, and I couldn't be more proud because I think what we've achieved is more than he ever envisioned. I mean, people often speak about fulfilling his vision for downtown development, but I think we've done way more than fulfill it. I think we've gone beyond.

Adam Kaufman:
That's good to here. So it's not like this burdensome shadow, but in fact you're going beyond...

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, I really do, and I know that he's still looking down and I know he's got a big smile because I know this was something he really wanted to see happen.

Adam Kaufman:
Well, it's great you could spend this time with your mother, whether it's at synagogue or working on these projects. You and I have something in common, unfortunately; my father died at a young age too, so that makes me closer to my mother as well, and I know you never take that for granted. I call my mother every day, and she continues to help shape who I am, I think.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, you know, it's funny. It's not difficult to please your mother; mothers always think their sons are perfect. But I think when you're growing up as a young man, you really want to please your dad. Everything you do, you want to do because you want him to feel great about what you did, and you want him to pat you on the back. I think when you lose your dad, that's the biggest loss. When you do accomplish something and you want to pick up the phone and tell him, he's not there, so-

Adam Kaufman:
Or there's a big challenge that you want help with, how to navigate through a challenge.

Scott Wolstein:
And you just got to hope that he's there looking down and he's smiling from wherever he is.

Adam Kaufman:
You just mentioned being a young man. Think about you as a young man; if you could go back and talk to the 21 year old version of you, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?

Scott Wolstein:
Like I said before, I think I would probably advise myself not to measure success in financial achievements.

Adam Kaufman:
Amen to that.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, I just don't think that that's the metric.

Adam Kaufman:
There's always somebody with more.

Scott Wolstein:
There's always somebody with more, and sometimes it can become an albatross. It becomes who you are and then you have to continue to fulfill that. I think do what makes you happy and do what makes you successful. Now, when I say that, I say that with some reticence because I've gone to every commencement in high school and college for each of my children, and I've listened to the academia say, "Just feed your passion. Don't worry about making money and don't worry about being successful."

Adam Kaufman:
Yeah, that's the common, conventional wisdom right now.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, and I don't believe that either. I do think there is still a gratification in hard work, and I often tell my kids when they complain about how hard their job is and what have you, I say, "If it was supposed to be fun, they wouldn't call it work. They would call it fun."

Adam Kaufman:
I always say that, that's why it's called work. These aren't hobbies.

Scott Wolstein:
Yes, but it's supposed to be gratifying, and I think the one thing we don't want to lose is at the end of a day of hard work, you feel good about what you accomplished. It doesn't have to be measured by money.

Adam Kaufman:
It has to give you meaning in some way.

Scott Wolstein:
It has to give you meaning in some way, and you have to feel good about the fact that you applied yourself and you got a positive result from that.

Adam Kaufman:
Absolutely. I know one time I was interviewed because I went from running a small business to running a non-profit, and this journalist wanted to talk to people who moved into the non-profit world. I talked about the incomparable joy of helping someone in my case with their health needs, and it's hard to put a dollar amount on that type of meaning.

Scott Wolstein:
Exactly.

Adam Kaufman:
And so that's, I think, what you're telling the younger version of you right now.

Scott Wolstein:
You know, I remember... We used to have a tradition where I would... Every year, I would give each of my children a special day with dad, where we would go and do whatever they wanted to do. I would take off from work and I would spend the whole day with them.

Adam Kaufman:
That's a cool tradition.

Scott Wolstein:
It's a great tradition, and all year long... It doesn't sound like much, one day, but all year long they say, "When's my special day? When's my special day?" I remember, I had a special day with my older son, and we had a conversation and he was talking about the things that he likes. I said to him, I said, "That's all great, but you do realize that life isn't about material things."

Adam Kaufman:
How old was he, do you think, during this conversation?

Scott Wolstein:
I think he was probably about nine years old.

Adam Kaufman:
Pretty young.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, very young. I said, "It's not just about stuff, and I know..." He says, "Well, but I like stuff."

Adam Kaufman:
Of course. Toys, games.

Scott Wolstein:
I said, "Let me put it to you this way, Harrison." This was my oldest, and I said, "Let's assume..." He was into video games at the time. "Let's say you were playing your most favorite video game, and let's say you beat the game and you got to the highest level, but there was nobody that you could tell. It was just you and the game." I said, "How would that make you feel?" He looked at me and he says, "You're right."

Adam Kaufman:
Kind of empty.

Scott Wolstein:
Yeah, it's kind of an empty feeling. It's not about the game, it's about me being able to tell somebody how I succeeded at the game. So I said, "That's what you have to think about. It's relationships that matter in life, it's not the game. It's being proud of what you accomplished in the game, and being able to share your pride with somebody you care about who cares about you." I think it was quite an epiphany for him. He really looked at me and he kind of got it. He said, "Yeah, that really makes a lot of sense."

Adam Kaufman:
It definitely does. In the future, have you thought much about any ideas that you're creatively pursuing on the business front? What are you most excited about? Anything really captivating your attention?

Scott Wolstein:
I honestly.... At this stage of my life, I would really like to create another platform in which my children could participate if they chose to.

Adam Kaufman:
Do any of them work with you now?

Scott Wolstein:
Nobody does now. I think that certainly at least one of them would like to, and-

Adam Kaufman:
This is part of the legacy question that I asked you earlier. That could be part of your legacy.

Scott Wolstein:
It very much could be, but I don't want to just create a job just to create a job that isn't going to be fulfilling. I want to create a platform that he could thrive in and he could feel really good about. I'm still working on a lot of things in my hometown, some really interesting developments that I think could significantly change the city, but I think at this stage of life I think more about my family.

Adam Kaufman:
I promised to keep you for only one hour. We're grateful for your time, Scott, and you've shared a lot with our listeners that I know will be more valuable to them then you probably even realize, so thank you.

Scott Wolstein:
Well, it's been fun. I appreciate it.

Adam Kaufman:
Five points sticking with me today from our discussion with Scott. One; when you don't take anything for granted, it's a lot easier to be happy. Two; financial metrics are not the way to measure success. Number three; it's good to follow our passions, but hard work can be very rewarding also. Four, our producer's favorite point from the day; one of the most important ingredients of success is to get other people to want you to be successful. Point number five is actually the charity Scott spent time talking about, helpchildren.org. That's his wonderful project in Malawi.

Adam Kaufman:
So much wonderful feedback is coming in from our Doug Holliday episode. It's been hard to choose just one for today's mailbag, but we're going to go with something Steven Fury wrote to me. Steven is an entrepreneur and a technologist, and he writes, "Great episode. I listened to the Doug Holliday show on my way into the office, and it made the commute seem so much easier. I appreciated in particular the conversation you and Doug had about leading with your weakness. When people see that you're not afraid to point out the warts, they don't seem so bad. Courage is contagious, powerful stuff." Thanks so much, Steve, for sending that in, and I look forward to hearing from more of you. My email address is adam@up2foundation.org.

Adam Kaufman:
Up2 is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our producer and audio engineer Dave Douglas. I'm your host, Adam Kaufman, and thank you so much for listening to the Up2 podcast.

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