Well this is the first interview I’ve done with a vineyard owner, and the first interview I’ve done with the owner of a wellness retreat for Veterans. These are both great resources and career overview for listeners, but Leon and Ken cover so much more ground. They both served in Explosive Ordinance Disposal while in the military. They have some incredible nuggets of wisdom about doing your job better rather than looking for a better job, and how work life balance doesn’t exist. Prepare to be motivated, because Ken and Leon make for an incredible combination of wisdom in this episode.
About Ken & Leon:
Ken Falke is Chairman of Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran wellness, which is a free, first-class rural wellness retreat for America’s military members, veterans and their families to recover from visible and invisible wounds by providing rest and reconnection time, reintegration training, and world-class combat stress recovery programming. He also serves as the Chairman of the EOD Warrior Foundation. He served in the US Navy for over 21 years, retiring as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Master Chief Petty Officer. He has also served as the CEO and Founder of A-T Solutions, and the CEO and Co-Founder of Shoulder 2 Shoulder.
Leon Tackitt Started his career in Navy Search and Rescue as a helicopter aircrewman in the Anti-Submarine Warfare field. He transitioned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal in 1985 and rose to the rank of Senior Chief before he was commissioned as a Limited Duty Officer in 1998. He retired in 2007 as a Lieutenant Commander
StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
Charlie Plummer - I’m no Hero - humility
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today are Leon Tackitt and Ken Falke. Ken Falke is Chairman of Boulder Crest Retreat for Military and Veteran wellness, which is a free, first-class rural wellness retreat for America’s military members, veterans and their families to recover from visible and invisible wounds by providing rest and reconnection time, reintegration training, and world-class combat stress recovery programming. He also serves as the Chairman of the EOD Warrior Foundation. He served in the US Navy for over 21 years, retiring as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Master Chief Petty Officer. He has also served as the CEO and Founder of A-T Solutions, and the CEO and Co-Founder of Shoulder 2 Shoulder.
Leon Tackitt Started his career in Navy Search and Rescue as a helicopter aircrewman in the Anti-Submarine Warfare field. He transitioned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal in 1985 and rose to the rank of Senior Chief before he was commissioned as a Limited Duty Officer in 1998. He retired in 2007 as a Lieutenant Commander.
Leon: Ken and I served together on active duty and have been great friends ever since.
Ken: Leon and I stayed in touch after we had both left the military. He was making some great wines and was getting very positive feedback. He ended up creating a cabernet for Boulder Crest Retreat. And the rest is history.
How would you describe what you do for a living?
Ken: I did a talk last night at a book club and someone asked me about what I was doing. I told them I was retired which they found funny because I’m still so active. In the Navy, I went to the Senior Enlisted Academy. We went to the Great Lakes where Navy basic training is. We talked to an Admiral there who told us that no matter how long you serve in the military, a mark will be left on you for the rest of your life. I got out at 21 years and I was excited for what was next.
At this point, I feel like I’m retired but also that I’m able to use my passions to help people that are struggling with their transition out of the military.
Leon: I use the term ‘winemaker’. Ken mentioned that in some ways he felt guilty after he got out. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because it means that you cared. I remember on my last day in the military, I was still finalizing different projects I was working on. The key as you get out is to have a plan to give you some direction with your life on the outside.
What do you do at EOD Warrior Foundation and Boulder Crest Retreat?
Ken: In 2005, my wife and I started the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation. At the time, there were a lot of wounded soldiers returning from the Middle East. What we realized is that it’s often a financial burden for families to travel to the hospital as their loved ones are being treated. We ended up merging our foundation with the EOD Memorial Fund to form what is now the EOD Warrior Foundation.
In 2010, there were over 70 amputees in Afghanistan. When they were being treated at Walter Reed, my wife and I would bring them to our home and allow them to spend time in nature. That eventually became the Boulder Crest Retreat. It’s a place veterans with visible or invisible wounds can go for peace, relaxation, and recovery.
What is the day-to-day at the retreat like?
Our flagship program is Warrior Path. It’s a 7 day intensive retreat with an 18-month follow up program. We also have programming for spouses and children. We also do reunions for various military groups. When there isn’t formal programming going on at the retreat, veterans can come and stay free of charge.
Leon - how did you end up opening a winery?
Leon: During the last ten years that I was in the service, I was planning on going into the wine business after I got out. I was researching and learning as much about the business as possible. When I retired in 2007, I bought out my uncle’s property and then my wife and I started our own small winery.
How difficult is it for someone to get into the wine business?
Leon: It’s not that bad. You don’t even have to have your own land. There are big wineries that will allow you to come use their land to make your wine. The hardest part is selling the wine and differentiating yourself from other wine makers.
Do you have any advice about how to sell?
Leon: It’s the hardest part for me. I have a hard time walking up to someone and selling my wine. I have no problem when someone comes to my tasting room but going out to wholesalers and retailers is more difficult for me. You just have to do it and be prepared to take either a yes or a no from that person.
Ken: There’s a perception that all great sales guys are extremely smooth. But the truth is that selling anything is very difficult. Customers have so many choices. I used to be a defense contractor. There are many companies out there that are providing services.
My dad said that people will buy something from you if they like you and you do good work. So it’s very important to build good relationships while also have a good product at the same time. I believe that humility is the best sales approach. You’re going to get a lot more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s’ and that’s OK.
Can you talk about maintaining work/life balance?
Ken: I don’t believe there’s such a thing as work/life balance. 70% of people hate their jobs. Leon and I are not those people. We get every single day with passion and excitement. I know you can’t leave the military and have a huge gap of time without an income. But give yourself time to really think about what gets you out of bed every morning.
I think if you’re passionate about what you do, there won’t be a separation between work and your personal life because you really care about what you’re doing.
One of my mentors once told me that as the owner of a company, the best philanthropy I could do was providing jobs for people. That really resonated with me. Even when we got up to 500 employees, I thought every day about how to empower people and really make them feel like they mattered.
Just between sleep and work - that’s about 16 hours of your day. The shortest period of your day is the time with your family or pursuing personal hobbies. I think my point is that there really isn’t a true balance. It’s a give and take.
Leon: It sounds cliche but if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. I had a mentor many years ago and we were on an airplane getting ready to jump out over the Pacific Ocean. I was kind of miserable because it was so hot. He turned to me and said, “How cool is this? We’re getting ready to jump out of this airplane over the ocean.’ That changed by perspective.
At the vineyard, I’m working 15 or 16 hour days but I really love it. Where I’m at right now is pretty cool.
Are there any resources you would recommend?
Ken: I heard an NFL football coach telling his players ‘Do your job better, don’t look for a better job.; I really like that philosophy. In life, we get to a point where we understand that we’re not going to be around forever. So I believe that for as long as you’re here, it’s your duty to make yourself as smart as possible and learn from other people. Then you’re able to share your experiences and help other people grow and learn as well.
I really recommend the book Man’s Search For Meaning. It was written by a Holocaust survivor who had seen the worst of humanity. Yet he came out of that still wanting to embrace life.
Leon: The internet is so powerful. I learned a lot of the wine making process through various online resources. There’s so much information out there available to you.
Surround yourself with positive people and keep away from the negative.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ken: I recently released a book called Struggle Well. The book is how we can work together to help people that are suffering.
All I ask from veterans is that you keep that military bearing with you. Integrity is a big part of life. This country is lacking in leadership and the one thing veterans bring to any community is great leadership.
Leon: Get out there and help and be part of the community. That will help you feel like you’re part of something meaningful.
There’s a reason companies seek out veterans. Veterans bring a lot to the plate. So take the time you spent in the military and use that to propel you forward.