Marcus Lemonis, host of CNBC’s “The Profit,” says his family ruled with an “iron fist” when he was growing up and, while it may have hurt him socially, it started him on his path to business success.
Today, Lemonis, 44, is a self-made multi-millionaire and entrepreneur who serves as Chairman and CEO of Camping World, a company with a market value of over $2.2 billion. He has had his share of business success, and he spends his time on “The Profit” trying to help small business owners turn around their own company's fortunes. But Lemonis tells CNBC Make It that his own path to success was “fairly different than most” because of the way his family raised him to put business first, even as a child.
“I started my business career as a teenager and my family ruled with an iron fist,” Lemonis tells CNBC Make It.
Lemonis’ family put him to work at the family business at a young age, often at the expense of typical teen activities like going to summer camp, playing Little League Baseball or even going on school field trips, he says.
Working hard "was ingrained in the culture of our family,” Lemonis says. But it helped him establish a very strong work ethic.
Lemonis grew up around his own family’s business, a Miami-based automotive dealership owned by his grandfather, Anthony Abraham. Along with working at the family business, where he says he learned “positive and prosperous business values,” Lemonis also became an entrepreneur at an early age. At 12, Lemonis started a lawn-mowing service in order to make enough money to start another business selling candy with his friends.
When Lemonis was in college at Marquette University, he continued mowing lawns and even worked as a club promoter. After he graduated, Lemonis worked again at his grandfather’s auto dealership, and he later got a job at the Florida-based auto retailer AutoNation, before a family friend, former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, advised him to get into the RV business.
The RV market "was very fragmented" when Lemonis first looked at that business in the early 2000s, he said in a 2013 interview. Iacocca suggested that Lemonis could find more opportunities selling RVs than in the already overcrowded automotive market. "Look, you can be in the car business forever; you're just going to be a number," Lemonis said Iacocca told him at the time.
Today, Lemonis sees both the “pluses and minuses” of his workaholic childhood.
“I think to some degree it was good because I was able to learn how to adapt in adult environments, learn how to communicate with adults, learn how to integrate in a business environment,” Lemonis tells CNBC Make It. “In other cases, it created a certain amount of social ineptness [in me] — the ability to navigate in a social setting, or to be comfortable at a cocktail party.”
Lemonis has been open about the fact that he suffered through trauma as a child, when he was sexually abused and later developed an eating disorder. He also talks often about the social anxiety he’s experienced throughout his life. In some ways, in 2016, his battle with social anxiety has helped him seek out and identify with struggling small business owners like those he works with on “The Profit.”
“Many years ago, I made the decision to invest in small business because it drew a parallel for me between my childhood — feeling alone and like an underdog,” Lemonis said in 2016.
So, while Lemonis’ hard-working childhood seems to have prepared him for his current level of success, he still encourages people to “learn from some of my mistakes and other people’s mistakes” by seeking some semblance of work-life balance, especially in their youth.
“There has to be this balance of learning how to navigate with your peers, especially as a young person, and finding that balance of when to move into the adult world and when to realize that, at 14 years old, you don't need to be at a meeting,” he tells CNBC Make It. “You probably should be playing a sport.”
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