Marcus Lemonis is a man of many talents. In addition to his status as a self-made millionaire, the entrepreneur and philanthropist has taken turns on multiple reality TV shows, including Secret Millionaire, Celebrity Apprentice and the soon-to-air The Big Fix. Basically, he serves as a business turnaround expert who can swoop in and help save struggling companies.
Due to a weight problem and struggles with an eating disorder in his youth, Lemonis is a die-hard healthy eating enthusiast, and a large part of his investments are geared toward companies that deal in fresh, natural foods. Most recently, he became a 50 percent partner in RawONE Foods, a South Florida-based, family-owned snack manufacturer. We spoke to Lemonis on his new acquisition, his CNBC show and the secret to his success.
Clean Plate Charlie: How did you first hear about RawONE? How did the partnership come about?
Marcus Lemonis: A friend of mine in Miami heard about it and said, "Hey there's a company that I know. The owner used to work with me and he's looking for a strategic partner." I look for small businesses that need a bit of a helping hand. So they introduced me to my current partners in RawONE. In a short period of time I realized that they were a good addition to this healthy food lineup that I was building. For me, people, process and product are always important and I tasted the product and thought it was great. I met the people and I was wildly intrigued by them. I just felt like the process was a little shaky - the balance sheet and their capital structure - they needed help. They're good people with a good product they just needed a little extra help. And with me being from South Florida and the company being from South Florida, it was nice.
Where does your interest in healthy eats come from?
I actually live that way, I'm a very healthy eater. When I was much younger I was overweight; as a child, as a teen. I went through a battle, sort of an eating disorder when I was in my teens. As I got older I got very disciplined and very knowledgeable about eating healthy foods, generally speaking. I was probably the only teenager in America that actually owned Whole Foods stock before people knew what Whole Foods was, back in '95, '96. I've always been a fan of that particular concept. When you go from being overweight and having an eating disorder to being super healthy, your awareness of healthy food is probably piqued. And as I've gotten a little older I've had the opportunity to accumulate a little bit of wealth and make some investments in products I believe in.
How can we encourage people to make the switch from crappy processed foods to healthier options?
Making sure that it's affordable: as you know, eating healthy is not cheap. It's cheaper to eat fast food. That's one of the challenges. During the filming of the Secret Millionaire episode in Miami I was given like $26 bucks for the week and I had to go grocery shopping. I found it challenging to buy healthy food. I ended up buying chicken breast and veggies and things of that nature. But a lot of people cannot afford to buy organic. So how do we make it more affordable? I'm going to be doing that by taking a little slimmer margins.
I think it's an educational process. I have a young lady in my office who works for me who is a contestant on the Biggest Loser as we speak. She's lost over 100 pounds so far and we're obviously inspired in our organization by stuff like that.
Childhood obesity in this country is a huge epidemic and I was one of them. It creates a lot of psychological problems and the more we can expand healthy eating in this country the better. We need to do what we can to make it fun and tasty and not weird and nichey. Remember the old natural food stores you'd go in? They'd have a weird smell to them, everything was kind of crunchy. People were wearing Birkenstocks and eating granola. I think it became more popular when celebrities starting eating healthy. It's not just trendy, but it became a better way to live.
Do you have a favorite healthy eatery in South Florida?
I can go to almost any restaurant. I have favorite eateries but I don't know how healthy they are ... but I shouldn't be eating there. I will tell you when I was heavy and I went through the eating disorder and became less heavy, I learned how to be disciplined when I go to a restaurant. I try not to be the odd guy out. I wouldn't be the guy that says, I can't go there. You can always find something healthy to eat.
Tell me about your new CNBC show, The Big Fix.
It's one of the fist reality shows on CNBC focused on small to mid sized businesses that are struggling. There are plenty of shows like Shark Tank and Undercover Boss, but this show's a little different. I'm going to go in, not as a shark, not undercover and not as a restaurant turnaround thing but as an entrepreneur who has built over 100 businesses. The single biggest difference is that I'm writing a check out of my own pocket to make an investment in the business, to have a meaningful impact. People want to be critical and tell people how dumb they are but until you put your own money where your mouth is ... until you put real stakes on the line it doesn't really mean anything. It's a real stakes show focused on saving jobs and redefining the American dream. Years ago the American Dream was Gordan Gecko in Wall Street.: fast cars, fancy cars, jewelry, the internet boom. If you didn't own a cigar boat in Florida you weren't the real deal.
For me the American dream is, I have a nice little family, I pay my bills, I put my kids through school, I own my own business and I employ 10 or 20 people, I'm a good pillar of the community I volunteer and if I do all those things, good things will happen for me. For me, that should be the real American dream. I have 6,000 team members and they are required as a condition of employment to volunteer 32 hours a year and they do it on company time so it comes out of the company's pocket. If you have a good job, make a good living, pay your bills on time, be a good partner, spouse, good friend, live a healthy life, do the right thing and give back - if you do all those things, opportunities will open for you. If you're destined to make a lot of money, great. If you make a lot of money, you better do something with it. It's worked pretty well for me. I make a lot of mistakes, no question about it. My formula doesn't seem to be perfect but it's not terrible. That's why I'm taking that formula on the road and putting it in front of viewers and small businesses. It's discipline, toughness, firmness process, product, people and performance.
What's the secret to success?
I'm embarrassed to say this but it's 80 percent luck, 20 percent hard work. You just don't know what's gonna happen to you. You have to be blessed enough to be put into a situation. I don't know if you remember before you went to college and you were looking for letters of recommendation people would say, "I can help you get in but I cant help you stay. I can get you in but at that point it's up to you. I can get you this job but you have to do the work." I think sometimes people forget that they have to work hard. If you're interviewing with somebody and it happens to be the right day and the right time and we get a little luck ... but once we get there, it's what do we do with it. My secret is what I do with the opportunities. I can usually outwork anybody. That's been the difference for me. The downside is that when I outwork people I make a lot of sacrifices. I don't have kids, I have a crappy social life, I don't go to a lot of events. So that's the trade off.
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