Finding the right flavor

Fear can be a great motivator, says Jerry Lasco,
founder, president and CEO of Lasco Enterprises LLC.
Lasco operates The Tasting
Room wine bar, and the company posted 2007 revenue of
$6.1 million and has more than
150 employees. Getting there
was not easy, however, as
Lasco had to dig deep within
himself to figure out what he
wanted his business to be.

In his first few years, the
workplace culture was not a
healthy one, and there were
times that Lasco feared he
wouldn’t make it. And that
fear didn’t ease until he came
to a realization — it wasn’t
that his company’s culture was
bad; it just didn’t reflect his
ideals.

“If we fail based on that, so
be it,” Lasco says. “At least I’ll
know I didn’t compromise,
and I gave it my best shot.”

Smart Business spoke with
Lasco about how to succeed
in business while remaining
true to your beliefs.

Q. What is the first step to
building a strong culture?

The key to culture is truly
belief. If you don’t believe in
the business enough to live or
die over it and you’re just like,
‘This sounds like a good one;
maybe it will work and maybe
it won’t,’ it’s probably not
going to be a strong culture.

Leadership has 1,000 faces.
One thing you can’t do is buy
one of them and paste it on
and guarantee it’s going to
work. It’s got to be the one
that fits your face.

People spot hypocrisy and
insincerity and phoniness very
quickly. If it’s something that is
the core of your beliefs and
the core of your drive and
your personality, it’s much easier to get people to drink that
Kool-Aid. They see it being
acted out every day.

I just really worked hard and
tried to absorb myself into,
‘What, exactly, is our culture?
What should it be? What do I
believe in? What can I preach
from the pulpit every single
day?’

Q. How did you overcome the
fear of making that leap?

Fear of failure has
been one of my biggest
motivators. It starts with
a deep breath and with
trying to get a hold of
yourself.

The most helpful thing
for me is a lifelong history of challenges.
Overcoming challenges,
whether you won the
race or not, you got
back up and finished it.

It’s the belief in yourself. If you are terrified
for a moment, you can
take a couple deep
breaths and get back to
work and get started
doing what you need to
do. You’ll end up persevering through it.

Q. How do you initiate a
cultural change?

I took responsibility for a lot
of the things I felt weren’t up
to par. I said, ‘This is going to
change. This is the way we’re
going to do things going forward. Some of this is going to
sound kind of cultlike or
obsessive, but it’s what I
believe in. I’m not looking for
90 percent of the people’s support out there. I’m looking for
about 10 percent of the people’s support.

‘It’s going to be an uncomfortable feel for the rest of
those people. I want it to be
extremely rewarding for those
that do fit. If you don’t fit,
that’s not a problem. But we’re
going to look for a different
opportunity for you with a different company.’

It was a heartfelt and passionate speech. ‘Here’s where
we’re at, here’s where I see us
going, and here’s how we’re
going to get there. You’re going
to have to adopt these beliefs,
or you’re not going to go along
with us.’

Hopefully, it stirs a passion
in you for your work. It’s my
belief that work is an extremely important part of our lives.
If we fill a passion with it, it
improves every other aspect
of our lives.

Q. How can you stir that
passion in employees?

Try to establish that type of
culture in our business where
people are carrot-driven. Try
to have creative concepts in
the rewards. It goes back to
our culture of our people
being our No. 1 priority. It furthers your culture and the
acceptance of the corporate
culture and your core values.

It generates good ideas, gets
everybody involved and builds
morale. You have instantaneous acceptance of the decisions because the most popular ones were the ones that
were voted in.

It’s not a company that is
trying to be a good home for
everybody. What we want to
do is be a great home for a
few.

Individuals that are achieving a lot and those that are
really passionate about it,
nothing is more frustrating
and demoralizing for them
than to be getting rewarded at
the same level as somebody
sitting right next to them who
doesn’t have that same level
of passion and isn’t producing
the same quality of work.

We made it very open and
transparent that if you’re not
getting the job done and
you’re not buying off on it,
you’re not going to be with
us for long.

HOW TO REACH: Lasco Enterprises LLC, (713) 993-9800 or www.tastingroomwines.com