FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Russ Dantu
July 8, 2014
His travels, youthful experiences/battles with alcohol and drugs, his divorce and family struggles form the grit of many of his compelling speeches – he puts it all on the line, exposes his darkest places and shows his audience how he made it through to the other side.
I’ve known him for several years – but like so many people we all encounter, that ‘knowing’ was only superficial. I wanted to know more, know who lived beneath the surface of what, to me, was a whirling dervish of activity, someone who seems to both bite off a lot and chew it quite well.
I KNOW him to be a very accomplished speaker – we’ve competed head-to-head several times. I won only one of those head-to-head encounters.
He's a compelling speaker and a formidible competitor.
Whether I’ve heard him speak in the Toastmasters realm, demonstrate his cause as he – together with his partners – take the message of Alienation to schools around the province, his own public speaking gigs, plying his trade selling trade show expertise in Service Excellence workshops and videos, marketing his own firm Synergy Apparel & Solutions – this guy is someone I wanted to know better.
So often I meet people who talk a good story, get involved in many things outside their own business, who brag up their friends, who seem to show up in so many places – and who, when they need to be counted on, not only do the job, the excel and exceed. Each time I meet someone like that I am humbled by their energy, find their tolerance for others perplexing (and yet I am amazed by their calm demeanor when I would be freaking out) – you know the type, always smiling, always a kind word, always going the extra mile (or km.), always on top of their game, always with their eye on the prize, but somehow staying between the ditches in life – even though we know they traverse the same life-challenges most of us face. When I meet people like that I’m so often amazed by how they do it, how they keep it together. A good example? A method to be watched and emulated? How could someone like that, who does all that, be so nice to boot? …This was my sense of Russ Dantu, but was it true? I wasn’t trying to play investigative reporter, but I wanted to look beneath the surface of this guy …
And he accommodated me. An open-vest breakfast meeting that took most of the morning – and then he took me, as his guest, to his BNI chapter luncheon where members like him, operators of small businesses who don’t work in big shops gather to network, to help each other become more successful.
Lets explore the nitty-gritty: born in Gloucester, UK, his mom was a homemaker, his dad a brewmaster. One younger sister. When Russ was nine, the family came to Canada, in search of a better life for the family. Immigration officials offered them Edmonton or Calgary. School life – Forest Lawn High, SAIT (pipeline drafting), Esso Resources .. work for dad in his business F&G Specialty Chemicals, then off into the world of trade shows. Russ worked for a trade show operator during high-school days, and that involvement led to a 22 year career in the trade show industry. He now does training on ‘how to’s’ of being successful at trade shows in his repertoire of presentations.
His move into selling promotional items (Synergy founded in 2010) – from 'put your logo on a shirt or jacket' to key chains or coasters – he’s got it covered.
I asked Russ how he sees his business – sales of promotional items – in Calgary, currently … looking forward over the next quarter?
… our industry goes up, or down, as the oil & gas industry does. Things are not suffering, right now. For me, and my colleagues in this industry, busier this year than ever.
And over the next 5 years?
… some customers are shifting more to on-line options, particularly for lower cost items. But they can’t see samples, can’t try things on for size, and there is no service. That is where we, firms like ours, will shine. Business will be great! I see my business growing, adding staff and services through our showroom operation, spending more of my time on speaking gigs. I would like to be running my business AND speaking full time.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… cheapest comes with excuses. I like people who are fabulous to work with. Customer service. The 4 P’s: Product, Price, People, Procedures
What distinguishes you that causes people/employers to choose Russ Dantu to do business with, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I do what I intend. Customer service is unlike my competitors. I strive to be the guy who will make it happen. I practice those 4 P's.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… mortality. My own, and aging parents. I haven’t done enough yet!
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… moving into sales in trade show work in 1997, my boss suggested I join some organizations to get networking. I joined Toastmasters. I joined Airways Business Association. Mrs. Rita Manning, my Jr. High School counselor. I was drinking and doing drugs every day – and she helped me get off drugs. I’ve grown closer to my mom and dad. Sonia keeps me grounded. Friends Peter and Dennis.
What do you do for fun? What defines work-life balance for you?
…golf, hockey, karaoke, Toastmasters, travelling (with wife Sonia) to at least one hot-sunny destination a year. Sonia says I work too hard. I walk my dog 2-3 times a day. I’m up at 5AM, two nights a week ‘out’ at some activity, 10-12 hour work days. I do ‘something’ every day of the week. I love work. My business is somewhat seasonal, so I try to take 6-7 weeks off each year during the slow periods.
What do you read?
… novels occasionally. Og Mandino. Everything to do with leadership, customer service and sales. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.
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