Meet Sam Kaufman, CEO of a Kitchen and Bath Renovation Company as well as a mentor, coach, and consultant. His primary business focus is centered around the success and leadership of others. His companies grow on an employee-focused and customer-centric value system that prioritizes people over all else. Sam’s been in my business for the last 6 years and with no formal education and grew a trading company to a 7 figure product supply business.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Sam Kaufman: I’m Sam Kaufman and I have a passion for business, leadership, and human beings. I went into business for myself at the age of 25 and never looked back. I was an addict and alcoholic looking death in the face at 22 years old when I decided to turn my life around. Once I took the opportunity to go into business I decided to use that opportunity to give back to other people. My company is one where we value second chances, mentorship, and development. We pride ourselves on being a team and building each other up. That is the core principle of what built us to 7 figures in under 5 years as a local kitchen and bath company. My goal every day is to make a positive impact on the people in my life.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Sam Kaufman: I always wanted to be a CEO. I started selling services as a 12-year-old kid shoveling snow. I would go out for 10,11,12 hours and shovel driveways all day long for 10 bucks a pop to earn money. I have always been in love with the idea of being in control of my own schedule and income. Even through my hardships in my early 20’s I was a hard worker. Going into business was the natural evolution of who I was. I have always been passionate about leading people and helping others. Shortly after going into business I adopted my 2- now children- and married my now wife. Taking care of people is my purpose- and being in business is a fast track to resources to care for others in a larger way.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Sam Kaufman: Self-made is absolutely a myth. From my family’s support in getting sober to my friends and family’s support when started up the first business I have never been alone on this journey. My wife is by far my biggest supporter and is constantly pushing me to be greater for myself, my family, and my teams. I never had a “professional” role model so to speak coming up in business, but I have found some amazing CEO accountability style groups that I am extremely active in now and those people are definitely my inspiration.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Sam Kaufman: Once I started to get my life together it really hit me that what I wanted more than anything was to give back, and in order to do that I needed more to give. I asked my last boss for a raise one day and he laughed at me. Something switched inside my brain like a light and I decided right then and there to put in my notice and start my business. I remember telling myself that I couldn’t go forward without trying. If I failed- so be it- but no more stalling.
I’ve faced lots of difficulties. Long hours, market fluctuations, competition, time away from my family, losing friends, running out of cash but keeping it going anyway. Every lesson has taught me that with enough faith and grit we can get through anything. Life is not here to be easy- and we must learn to enjoy the journey and the lessons it brings along the way.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Sam Kaufman: On The Level Construction is a Charleston, SC-based kitchen and bath renovation company. My responsibilities as CEO are very vision-based. I am in charge of some other things like finance, capital/debt, high-level relationships, and negotiation. My main focus is a visionary outline. Where are we going and how can we get there. I’ll be honest- with the amazing team that I have- my job is amazing.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Sam Kaufman: In the standard sense- CEOs typically report to a board of investors. I would argue that CEOs should be treating their employees as the board and constantly being of service to them. I believe I work for my team- not the other way around.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Sam Kaufman: Transitioning out of technician to CEO was challenging for me. I was used to being a tech- hands-on getting things done. But, you can’t grow a business that way. And if you don’t grow the business then you are extremely limited in the opportunities you can provide for people. It was and continues to be different than what I expected. It’s got its pros and cons- but ultimately if you are cut out for the job, enjoy it, and see the potential for how it can help others- then there is a responsibility to do the job and do it well. What surprised me the most was the support I received from my team when I stepped up.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Sam Kaufman: Simple. People. The CEO is at the top of the food chain. This position should be extremely people-focused and often times it is not. When I lay out a strategic plan for 1,3,5 years- I always focus the momentum of the plan around the people. I am of the firm belief that profit is a symptom of a healthy company, and a Healthy Company is a result of healthy people who execute on a strong vision with clear procedures. It is the responsibility of the person at the top of that vision to lay that out and remove any obstacles that stand in the way of the team from executing on that.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Sam Kaufman: I have had to let go of 2 of my best friends. As the business grew and the value system began to evolve there were 2 people who were extremely close to me who refused to grow and mature with the company. As we hired more people and began to grow and require some boundaries and processes, these people made things worse. I was forced to look at whether or not I was hurting everyone else by saving 2. And I was. So they had to go. It was extremely difficult but I now had over a dozen people to look out for. My responsibility lies with the greater good.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Sam Kaufman: I would define success as living life in a way that is inside of your purpose. For me- helping people out is the root of that. I also believe that accumulating wealth will increase the resources available to me to be able to do more of that and for longer. Success is truly about being self-aware to know what makes you happy and finding a way to live inside that place forever.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Sam Kaufman: Empathy is the single most important leadership skill I possess innately. Funny enough- I have always thought I was “soft” because of how deeply I care about other people in that way. Turns out it is the most important leadership skill I could have and I am beyond grateful I have it. Some of the skills I’ve cultivated over the years are patience, strategic thinking, and humility. All of which are required to effectively lead groups of people.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Sam Kaufman: Our business model no longer worked to make a profit. We were a labor-specific company and when the pandemic hit- customers stopped paying their bills and it started with the labor market. I saw an opportunity to use the infrastructure we had to start selling products on our own instead of being a strictly labor-management-based company and we jumped all over it. The relationships I had built over the years along with the knowledge made this a fast and simple transition. We actually dramatically increased our profit margins and grew our business.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Sam Kaufman: Build a team NOW. You are not as alone as you think you are. Take the leap, take the risk, start that business, be that CEO. But, get a team. Hire and fire based on values and culture. Set that up first and stick to it no matter what. Put people on your team that is smarter than you. Lawyers, accountants, sales reps, ops people, etc. Become the best in the world at being the dumbest person in the room and you will always be growing.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Sam Kaufman: I’ve always wanted to be bi-lingual. I’ve never given myself the time or energy to put in to do it. But now that I have answered this maybe I will…
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Sam Kaufman: “You can’t stop building”
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Sam Kaufman for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Sam Kaufman or his company, you can do it through his – Instagram
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