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April 26, 2012

Interview with Mark Jankowski

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Jeff Cochran

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Mark Jankowski Co-Founded the Shapiro Negotiations Institute in 1995. He has been an invaluable asset to the organization over the last 17 years, but he will soon be moving on to pursue other endeavors.  A couple days ago we were able to talk to Mark about his time at SNI.

How would you describe your 17 years at SNI?

Absolutely life changing.  I recall when we started the business in my apartment in 1995.  My kitchen table was my office and the second bathroom was our storage closet!  I never would have known then that I would be fortunate enough to co-author two books, teach on five continents, and work with tens of thousands of participants.  More importantly, I have worked with incredible people at SNI.  Ron Shapiro has been a mentor, partner, and guide throughout my years here.  Todd Lenhart has for many long stretches carried the entire business on his back.  Jeff Cochran is the most incredible facilitator I have ever encountered.  I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I know that as I depart SNI, it is in great hands and extremely well positioned for future growth.

What was the vision when you started SNI and do you think that vision has been met?

Our first business cards had the following quote:  “Helping individuals and organizations reach their full potential through The Power of Nice.”  Over the years, we have had many participants come back to us and tell us that not only did our programs help them do their job better, but it helped them live their lives better.  I recall one instance where a participant told us that he was concerned that his son did not want to go to college and that no matter what was said to the son, he simply refused to budge.  Two weeks after taking our course, he e-mailed to let us know that he used our negotiations approach with his son to convince him to go to college.  Other participants attributed leaps in their career paths to what they learned in our programs.  Our vision was never about revenue or building equity so that we could sell the business.  That is not to say that we are not proud of how much the business has grown over the last 17 years, but from the very start Ron set the vision that if you help the people with whom you touch, the business will take care of itself.  I think that the last 17 years are a tribute to that vision.

What has been one of your most memorable moments with the organization?

As with many things, my most memorable moment, and most illuminating for that matter, was at the time one of my greatest failures.  Ever since we started the business, people encouraged us to move beyond focusing on just negotiations training.  They told us that if we offered things like leadership training or team building, we could increase revenue by selling more products to our existing clients.  Ron and I always resisted, knowing that we did not have the level of expertise in those areas to deliver the type of top shelf product that we offer through negotiations training.  However one client begged us to do a team building retreat for them. I violated our ‘stick to your knitting’ mantra, and agreed to give it a go.  It was a total disaster.  We held it at Ron’s farm.  We tried to do a row boat race, and the boats sank. Our campfires almost burned down the fields, and 98 degree temperatures made the entire day almost unbearable!  Ron later told me that we created so much chaos at his farm that the migratory geese stopped visiting!  It was then and there that I decided that we would stick to delivering training focused on Sales, Negotiation, and Influencing, and to stay away from other topics in which we did not possess adequate expertise.  All in all, our strategy has served us extremely well.  And to give you a sense of “the rest of the story”…  Several years later I ran into one of the participants in that team building session and I offered an apology for the “less than adequate session.”  She looked back at me stunned and said, “That was one of the best team building events we ever had!  People have talked about the chaos and hilarity for years.  It really did give us an experience that bonded us all together.  As a matter of fact, my new company is looking to do a teambuilding session and I was wondering if you would do it!”  We respectfully declined.  The geese had returned to Ron’s farm and I did not want to risk chasing them away again.

What do you plan on doing in the future?

Several years ago I started to focus on the technology side of the training business.  I have four kids at home and my wife is in a wheelchair and going on the road to do live training simply became impossible.  I decided then to try to find a way to be able to continue to meet our initial vision, but to do so in a way that used technology such as 3D virtual worlds, iPads, Webinars and the like.  It has been a great challenge as it is very difficult to translate a live training experience into an online format.  Of course I do love a good challenge, and I decided to devote my full time and effort to developing ways for both corporations as well as schools to “harness the potential of teaching through technology in order to reach their fullest potential.” (Sound familiar?)

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