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I Am American Business

Paul Teutul, Sr.

Producer Notes

The Orange Counter Choppers headquarters is a uniquely sculpted edifice that towers above most everything else in the neighborhood. And once you go inside, it's more than just a shop where you can spend $16 on a T-shirt or $45,000 on a genuine Orange County Chopper bike - it's like stepping into an art gallery or museum for motorcycles. The Black Widow bike. The NASA bike.The POW bike. The Make A Wish Foundation bike. They are so much more impressive when you see them in person. The facility is also home to a video crew that eats, sleeps and breathes OCC on behalf of the cable network that runs "American Chopper."The Teutuls are all there. Paul Sr., Paulie and Mike. If you don't spot them shooting a scene - there is a viewing area for fans of the show! - you may just run into them in the showroom.

Video Interview

The "I Am" Q&A

What car do you drive?
I drive a 204 Hummer with a supercharger on it.

What’s your favorite place to go?
My favorite place to go is the gym.

What web site do you like to visit?
I like to visit Orange County Choppers.com.

What was your worst moment in business?
I think my worst moment in business is when I was on a job and I made a mistake putting up about ten flights of stairs, and I had to figure out a way to redo it without taking every, without taking them all down.

What is your favorite drink?
My favorite drink is water with lemon.

What’s your favorite food?
My favorite food is either fish or chicken.

What’s your idea of fun?
My idea of fun is fishing, riding bikes and working out.

And at work?
My idea of fun at work is yelling at people.

What personal weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
Personal weaknesses do I forgive in someone? That’s a good one, I don’t… as far as forgiving personal weaknesses I'm not sure if I'm critical to any.

What business weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
Business weakness? None. None.

What movie star do you like?
I like Jack Nicholson.

Who is a business hero of yours?
I'm not sure if I have a business hero.

What personal qualities do you admire in business?
Honesty.

And what personal qualities do you admire in life?
I think the thing that I admire is people who just remain themselves.

What is your dream?
I’ve already lived my dream.

What is your present state of mind?
My present state of mind is confusion. Yeah, confusion.

You like it that way?
Sometimes. I'm a complicated person.

Transcript

CNBC:
In your book The Tale of the Teutuls, Chapter 1 is called “FromThe Basement to the Superdome,” - tell me about that experience.

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I was in the steel business for 26 years and I always had a passion for motorcycles, I was just too busy with my business to do it and at some point the business was running itself and I was able to take some time off. In the early ‘70s I was involved with bikes and it gave me the opportunity to get involved in really building bikes. Most of the time I would take a bike and I would customize it. I started building bikes from the ground up… I had a house and I dug a hole in the back and cut a door in there and made a ramp outta steel and got the bikes down into the basement and that’s how I started. I built a bike and I took it out and people were just all over the bike. I knew I had something at that point.

CNBC:
In your new book you say, “We’re famous, we’re on TV, people recognize us everywhere we go,” how do you feel about that?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
It’s kinda flattering to be recognized around the world. We play in 160 countries and you’re—so there’s nowhere…there’s nowhere in the world that you can go where people don’t recognize you. I don’t know if you can say it’s part of a job but, it just comes with the territory. I think it’s pretty cool. I like people and I think people relate to me differently than most celebrities because they think that I don’t really consider myself a celebrity so —people talk to me like they know me and I think that’s ‘cause of the family dynamics and people could relate to that.

CNBC:
What do you like the most about being a celebrity?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
The thing I, I like most about being a celebrity is the money. [Laughs] I think that there’s many things that come with the territory that I do like. Being successful, being a celebrity… it’s really not all about money. I think it’s about making a difference in people’s lives. So there’s a lot more involved than just the money.

CNBC:
What do you like the least about it?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I think the thing that like least about the celebrity thing is that we deal with people and sometimes it’s on a 10, 12-hour day. By the time 12 hours is up you’re worn out and then, you know, maybe you’ll come back to the shop and there’ll be 50 people waiting for you. You know and at that point you’re like done, and I think that’s when it gets a little bit over the top.

CNBC:
At some point, not too long ago, you had to open yourself up to people who you didn’t know; people in the TV business. It seems to me like you’re a person whose trust needs to be gained. But in this particular instance you may have had to give some of that trust sooner than you might have normally. How difficult was that for you?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
When we first started filming, we got a phone call and they said, ‘you wanna do a documentary?’ so that was something that everybody and their brother wanted because Jesse James had got it and he was successful overnight so, we were thrilled about it, so… I had a three-week period to think about it and you know you’re on TV and you’re a person that barely likes to get his picture taken with a camera, and, you try to figure out, well, what do I wanna be, what do I wanna look like, should I lose weight, should I gain weight, should I, you know, talk a certain way, should I…comb my hair a certain way and, and blah-blah-blah you know and, basically, what it came down to was that maybe I’ll just be me. And once I got comfortable -you have to be comfortable with yourself, Then the butterflies went away and, evidently [LAUGHS], if you watch the show, it pretty much shows.

CNBC:
Is your story a story of the American dream?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Yeah, I think my story is absolutely the story of the American dream because, I come from absolutely, no background, I had no role models, no support, and basically I self-taught myself everything. And I got to where I am not by people saying here, take this, it’ll help you. I pretty much did it all myself. And I just think that starting out in a pickup truck to creating an empire, that’s where I’m at, you know.

CNBC:
Your son Mikey has said sometimes he pinches himself, do you pinch yourself sometimes, do you go ‘man, this is amazing!’?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
You know, I don’t have time to pinch myself. You know, I got, still got the seat-belt on, ‘cause we’re still flying. You know what I mean, so, I don’t know if I ever really, look back and say is this real or not, I mean it’s a totally different life. But—the pace is so fast yet. You don’t have really time to just, kinda think about it ‘cause you just do, what you gotta do so you’re always doing something, you know.

CNBC:
Are you starting to enjoy it?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I enjoy parts of it, you know, my absolute passion, is building bikes. But there’s a lotta other things that go along with that. I don’t enjoy traveling and we do a ton of traveling, but it comes with the territory, so, there’s a lotta aspects of the business that I do like and then there’s some that are just a little bit, you know, tougher than others but you know the thing I’ve learnt in life is that you gotta be diversified and you gotta be able to do whatever it is that you have to do.

CNBC:
In tough times like these, there are people whose dreams are crashing left and right because they can’t get them off the ground, there’s not enough money… How would you encourage them to not give up in the face of adversity, not give up on their dreams?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I didn’t get successful because I gave up. I’ve been through tough times. Maybe even worse than this, you know, I’ve been in business 38 years. You know the thing of it is is that if, if you believe in what you’re doing, then nothing stops you.

CNBC:
Easy Rider. That movie had some significance for you. Tell me a little bit about that. And have you ever had a chance to meet Dennis Hopper or Peter Fonda?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
The movie Easy Rider I think inspired anybody, period. You know, anybody that went to the movie, it was like going to see Rocky, everybody wanted to be a boxer. So yeah, it was an inspiring. You wanted to get on a bike, you wanted to go around the world and, blah-blah-blah, you know what I mean, but it’s like everything else, you know what I mean, after a year or two it kinda wears off and it’s, it’s just not a reality, you know, for most people. I’ve actually rode with Peter Fonda. I spent time with him, when I was in Laconia. I’ve done a couple rides with him. I’ve never met Dennis Hopper but…he’s the man I would really like to meet.

CNBC:
Tell me about the Sunshine Bike you have behind you.

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
The Sunshine Bike is the first bike, first Harley that I bought, I had a Triumph in 1971, and that’s a 1974 Harley, so, that’s my first bike and for me, I put core-marks in everything I own, so I don’t— You know, I’ve been through a lotta rough times but, I managed to keep the bike and you know it mean something to me, you know, I have a tattoo across my chest with the, with Sun—with a picture of the Sunshine on there, so, you know, things are meaning—meaningful to me.

CNBC:
All right, tell me a little bit about, I know the story about breaking it, picking it apart…

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Yeah. When I just started basically, learning about Harleys and, and I had a partner at the time that inspired me to do it but, you know, I would customize my bike but, I would never take it fully apart ‘cause I was afraid that I didn’t know how to get it back together. So I took a shot at it and I put it—and I was in my basement, and I took the whole bike apart but I labeled every single piece of it. And I spread it out on a table, and I had a Great Dane. And I tied him to the [LAUGHS]…I tied— [LAUGHS] I tied him to the oil tank, which was not a good idea. But, so he chewed a hole in the oil tank and, 55 gallons of oil was on the floor, but, the thing that would happen is he knocked the table over. So that every single piece of the bike, was all over the [LAUGHS], all over the basement, and, and soaked in oil. So, you know, I had to figure it out, you know, and, you know, those are the challenges that, come along in life that you have to meet and you have to conquer it.

CNBC:
January 7th, 1985 is a significant day for you. Why?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
January 7th, 1985 was, the day that I got sober, that was my last drink. Which I think was 24 years ago. But, that was a, a big turning point in my life, um… You know, I talk about, in my new book, about, um…you know, having a, uh…I—I lost myself here, let me think about this. Oh, I talk about in my book about having choices, you know, how important, ch—that you, that you, that you do have choices in life, and I think that, you know, during the period of drugs and alcohol, you don’t believe that you do have choices, so I think once I broke that, once I did get sober in 1985, you know, I learned that I did have choices, and I think that, that’s part of, you know, kinda, led me, you know, on the journey to get to where I am now.

CNBC:
There’s a quote in your new book: “Your past does not dictate your destiny.” Can you tell me… why does that sentence apply to you?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Well, you know, the thing about it is is that, just, where I come from, and the experiences that I’ve, been through, you know, you can—so somebody like that me that came from a home and place that I came from, usually you probably wind up in jail or dead, and I really should’ve been that person. So, I think that, you know, even though you experience that and you’re able to come through that, it doesn’t—that’s not your destination, so, you know, you have to overcome it.

CNBC:
Let’s spend a couple minutes on the Merchant Marines, on boot camp, on discipline and the turning point for you.

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
When I was 18 years old, I went into the Merchant Marines, and I knew people that were in it, and, that—that’s how I was able to get in there. But at that point, it—it was around Christmastime, at that point before you could just sign up and go out on a ship and that was it, now, when I went in they had what they call boot camp. But it was like three months of it, not, six weeks. So, it was pretty, it was pretty difficult, you know, being 18 years old and being away from home it was, it was hard for me, you know, to, be able to be away and to be able to stick with that and stay there. I think what I did was I, challenged myself, and the way I did that, is, I really wasn’t much of a runner and I really didn’t like running. And where I was there was a, a dock way down the other end of, where I was, and, I said to myself, if I could run…all the way down, and all the way back, then I could make this. And I think that’s what the — That’s what inspired me to follow through with it.

CNBC:
True Blue. In the book, you said “Change or die,”: what is the significance of that phrase as it relates to that bike?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
The thing is with the, the bike True Blue, I was kinda stuck in just old-school. You know, and from ’84 down, is considered old school and that’s the only thing that I would deal with because I knew it inside out. And, so soft-tails came out, and, I just didn’t want anything to do with ‘em, you know, I wanted, to stay where I was and what I knew, but it was the—it was a thing of the future. People were not dealing with those bikes anymore and everybody wanted what they call a soft-tail. And I was with a bunch of guys down in, Florida, young guys, and, they were buying these bikes, these soft-tails and they were paying like 50,000, 60,000 dollars for these bikes. And I said, ‘cause a bike’s a bike to me, you know, and I said, I can build that bike for probably $25,000, and they were like, you know what? You can build those old bikes but you can’t, you can’t, build this bike, so, that was a challenge to me. And that’s when—that was the first bike of that type, that I built, and that’s pretty much where it started ‘cause when I pulled that bike out, and I drove it into an area where all these bikes were like that I mean the whole crowd just left everything they were doing, and just congregated around the bike. So, I mean when I say “Change or die,” you know, that was a thing that, you know, I had to give, I had to—not that I had to give up the old stuff, but I had to convert to what was, demanding at the time.

CNBC:
And True Blue is the first bike—?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
True Blue is the first soft-tail bike, with an Evo motor, which I don’t know if everybody knows it, that means which is a late-style motor, that I’ve ever done. Or—that was the first bike that I’ve ever done, of that style.

CNBC:
In terms of your books, was it a hard thing to open up to tell, and to literally bare all, the good, the bad, the ugly?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
No, because it is what it is. It’s easy, it’s easy to sugar-coat stuff, you know what I mean, but that—you know, I’m a real person and I’m not ashamed of anything in my past, so, it’s not hard for me to tell you some of the horror stories and, and some of the things that I experienced. In some sense I think even that’s an inspiration to people.

CNBC:
Yeah, and it certainly makes you approachable, right?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Yeah— [LAUGHS]

CNBC:
In a way?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I think that I’m a very approachable person, I think people recognize that in me. They recognize a certain amount of toughness in me and the grizzly type of person but, you know, they also the teddy bear side too.

CNBC:
Giving Back, is the title of your book and in a down-turn like this one it’s sometimes becomes the first thing that people stop doing. Why is it important not to lose sight of the importance of giving back?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I’ve always believed, that you can’t keep, keep it unless you give it back. And, that’s always been a philosophy of mine, and I think when I talk about money’s not the most important thing, it’s part of the feeling that you have when you’re able to be in a position where you can give back, because, there’s a reward in that.

CNBC:
The Make a Wish bike. Does that enter into that category of giving back?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
We support the Make a Wish Foundation— It’s terminally ill kids, and basically, they get a last wish, and we were number one, as far as their, as far as their wish which is…which I think is pretty impressive, you know, to, wanna come here and see …bike guys. When I talk about making a difference in people’s lives, pretty much that’s what I refer to. Because I think when these kids come here, it breaks your heart. But…the thing of it is they’re here because they want to be with you, they want a part of you… it’s their dream. So, to me it’s an honor, to be able to do that, and I think I get more out of it than they do.

CNBC:
“My work is my life because it is my passion.” Tell me what that means.

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I’ve always been a hard worker, and always a—tried to be a good provider. And, to me, it’s, it’s not about ‘cause you have to do it, it’s because I wanna do it, and I think that’s what the difference is in life in what you do. So, you know, I spend twenty-six years in the steel business, which isn’t the wealthiest business in, in the world. You know? You're dealing with iron, it’s dangerous job. And, and I loved it, I loved it, because anything that you can, when you start with nothing, kind of like in the beginning when I started with nothing, when you can take nothing and develop it into something, and then stand back and look at what you did, that’s the reward. You take a piece of steel, and the next thing, you know, you look at Home Depot, that you’ve put up. And it’s the same thing with a bike. You know? You start with the raw frame, you work on it, you do this, you do that, and then at the end it comes back, it’s painted, you put it together, you stand back and you say, wow. You know? So, that doesn't go away. It’s OK, let’s go onto the next one.

CNBC:
Stick to your principles, an important philosophy of yours. Tell me about passing up on opportunities because it would have compromised your principles.

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
You establish principles, and that’s what my book’s about. Over thirty-eight years of being in business, is what you establish, you know. And one of them is values. If you say that you're going to, you know, stick to certain things that you're not going to do, then you need to stick to it. You know, and we’ve had plenty opportunities, we don’t support alcohol, we don’t support cigarettes, smoking, we don’t support nudity, and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to make a lot of money doing it. We stick to what we believe in, and we don’t do it.

CNBC:
Which bike is your favorite?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
My favorite bike is the POW bike. I'm from the Vietnam era. The stuff that went on in Vietnam as far as I'm concerned, none of those people got the recognition that they deserved and I think by, building that bike, you know, it honored that, and I think that that made a lot of difference in people that were in Vietnam.

CNBC:
Grandma Teutul and the Yankees bike.

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
[LAUGHS] Grandma Teutul, which is my step mom, has been a huge, huge Yankee fan since, since day one. She’s ninety years old. And she lives and breathes Yankees. You cannot say a bad word about them. She’ll probably still take you down at ninety years old if you say something bad about them. But we got the opportunity to build a bike for Jorge Posada and his son – he has a, I'm not really sure what they call it, but he has some type of bone dysfunction, I guess, you know… But so we got the opportunity to build him a bike, and by doing that she got, we, we auctioned the bike off at a Yankees dinner and she got to meet the whole team. So, that’s probably something that she never would expect to happen in a lifetime.

CNBC:
Great. And that’s a pretty unique story too about how she came to be your step mom.

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Yeah, Helen, which is my step mom, and my mom, her husband and my mom and dad, they always were best friends all their lives, you know. And every Thursday night they would play pinochle, and you know, twice a week they’d bowl on a bowling team, so they did everything together for many years. And my mom passed away, when she was pretty young, in her fifties, you know. And I don’t know how, exactly how it happened, but at some point, they happened to come across each other, and they started sharing each other’s company, and they wound up getting married.

CNBC:
Which is the most challenging bike for you guys to make?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
That’s a good question, what’s the most challenging bike? You know, as far as the most challenging bike, I think they're all, it’s hard to say, you know. I think the first real different bike that we made was the “I, Robot” bike. If you look at the bike, it’s quite different than most of the other bikes. And there was a degree of difficult in building that bike. I don’t know if that was the most difficult bike that we’ve made, but it sure was one of them.

CNBC:
Paul and Michael are part of the show, they're family. Tell me about the importance of a family business.

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
You know, I think that every father wants to be able to do something with their sons and have them to be part of their life. And I think that, you know, that's what kind of a family business is about having your kids around you. Hoping that they’ll pretty much have the same passion as you do, and just watch them, you know, develop into, manhood, I guess.

CNBC:
Paulie seems to be your polar opposite in terms of your organization. He’s incredibly talented but you guys seem to butt heads a little bit in that regard?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Well, you know, I think with my kids that, they're from one planet and I'm from another planet, you know. My work ethic, you know, maybe that’s because I'm never satisfied, I always want to be better, or, or my expectations are high. And you know, they don’t come from that era, you know. And I think the thing with Paulie is, and it’s been his whole life, is that he’s a naturally gifted person and sometimes that’s a curse and sometimes it’s a blessing. I think that when you're naturally gifted and it comes real easy, it goes real easy. And I think that that’s a big - I think that has a big effect on our relationship, and the mannerism of, you know, the way we get along and the way we do things.

CNBC:
How does he wind up challenging you? He’s got this big creative flair and he’s probably challenging logic and challenging design logic…

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I think that there is always –I'm a competitive person, huge competitive, there’s only one place that’s first place. And I think that they get that from me. So that's what that’s about, is always a competition. You know? And I think that’s part of why we bang heads so much. You know, he’s right, and I'm right, you know. But I'm really right.

CNBC:
And so who cleans up after the messes you leave behind?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
As far as cleaning up after the mess that he leaves behind generally it’s either me or the people around me.

CNBC:
And you're cursing under your breath, ‘man, Paulie left this out again?’

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
You know, the thing of it is, is that I'm a neat freak, and when, day in and day out that happens, and I can never get myself used to that happening. You know, I just can't accept it and I probably hurt myself more than I hurt him. But, it’s just the way I am and I guess it’s just the way he is that it, it always be something that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to.

CNBC:
What’s it like when the three of you are together, not in front of a camera, is that the same thing-

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
You know, when the three of us are together both my kids have a great sense of humor. So, if we can get out of the element, and, it doesn't matter where we are something starts kicking. I think that we all have a great sense of humor, and I think that’s the best time, you know, spending together.

CNBC:
Mikey makes you laugh. I laughed myself when I read this story about the motorcycle seat that didn't have his face on it—

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
[LAUGHS] I just saw that, I just… I was listening to the show and I heard that. That’s a classic.

CNBC:
Tell me a little bit about Danny now. So Danny is with Orange County—

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Danny took over pretty much the business that I created, which was a steel business. Danny is the totally different than everybody else. He’s me. He’s an aggressive go-getter, self-efficient, self-reliant person. And you know, we bang heads because we’re both alike, but I have to give him credit, because everything that he’s done, he’s done on his own, and he created his own empire.

CNBC:
Do you work together?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
We don’t work together. Me and Danny don’t work together because it’s kind of like, it’s almost the same kind of a situation with Paulie, but it’s different. Because when you, when you have that drive, you're strong headed, and you get two guys together that are strong headed, it doesn't make for good, it doesn't make good relationship, you know?

CNBC:
Does it make for good dinner conversation?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Dinner conversations is a little bit different, but the problem is that when you're like that, you live and breathe work, so the only conversation is work, and after a while, it’s kind of like a destructive thing, because it’s the banging of heads again, because you're talking about work, you do it this way, I do it that way, and you know, you forget about talking about the family, and you forget about talking about the better things in life. So, you know there’s a defect to that too, you know.

CNBC:
Do you consider yourself an artist?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Do I consider, yeah, I do consider myself an artist. I think that, I think I have a lot of talent. I'm not going to say it’s equal to Paulie, but I think that in certain areas it is. We do things different ways, but I have, I definitely have a real creative mind and if you look around here, everything you see here is what I created. He has a different style, but you know, it all kind of comes out the, the same way, you know. So, yeah, I think I'm a very creative person, and I think the creativity comes with the passion.

CNBC:
Kristin, (your daughter) you credit her for inspiring you to become sober - and you also say that she’s the smart one in your family. She’s not in the business. Are you happy about that, or…?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
I am happy that my daughter, Kristen, is not in the business, and I am so proud that she’s a nurse. I think that that’s a special person, not too many people can do that, and even when she was in high school, she would go after work to the old age home and she would spend time with the people there. So, she’s got a great heart and she might get a little corrupted if she was in the business.

CNBC:
So you're happy with your kids?

PAUL TEUTUL, SR.:
Overall I'm happy with my kids. I'm an overachiever, you know, I'm always looking for, you know, things to be better. So yeah, absolutely, I mean, you know, listen, your kids are your kids no matter what, and you don’t necessarily have to like them, but you, you do love them, you know.