But the truth is that his upbringing, in working-class Howard Beach, Queens in the 1970s and 80s, was about as far from those things as you can imagine. His mother, Jean, was famously a yogi, but his father, Ralph, didn't take care of himself like he should have. A tireless worker — he owned taxicabs, a trucking company, and real estate properties, among other businesses — he paid little attention to his nutritional habits and fitness level, and his health suffered as a result.
But while Ralph didn't make fitness a priority, he did instill an unmatched work ethic in his son. So, too, did the people in his neighborhood. Howard Beach was a hotbed for organized crime at that time, and one of Joe's neighbors happened to be one of the major mafia bosses in New York. While his moral compass could certainly be called into question, his drive and determination could not.
One day when Joe was 12 years old, reeling as his parents were going through a divorce, the boss took him aside and, without a hint of irony, said, "You know the best thing we can do on this Earth? Help people."
That one tiny life lesson was imprinted in Joe's brain, and it changed his life. Joe decided right then and there that he wanted to help people — that it was his duty and responsibility — and he's been doing it ever since.
Next, the boss gave him an opportunity. He put him to work, offering him $35 per week to clean his swimming pool. It was during this period that the boss taught him three invaluable lessons that Joe would live and swear by for the rest of his personal and professional life.
Lesson #1: On Time Is Late
On the first day of work, Joe showed up at 8 a.m., right on time. At least he thought it was right on time. The boss, however, was disappointed. He expected him to be 15 minutes early, especially on Day 1, and used the "tardiness" as a teachable moment. To this day, Joe routinely shows up early to meetings and commitments — "on time," as he sees it.
Lesson #2: Make Yourself Irreplaceable
Joe was hired to clean the pool, but he learned early on that if he wanted to keep his job for the long-term and find further opportunities, he would have to routinely go above and beyond. He would have to become indispensable.
How do you become indispensable? By doing more than what you're asked to do and adding immeasurable value, the boss explained. So instead of merely cleaning the pool, he should also — without being told — straighten up the shed, straighten up the lawn furniture, and clean the windows.
"Make it so that when I get home, I can’t live without you," the boss advised Joe. "Make it so you are irreplaceable as far as a service provider."
Lesson #3: Never Ask for Money
The third lesson that the boss was adamant about is that you should never ask for money. If you do great work and make yourself indispensable, you will get paid. It didn't take long for Joe to find out just how true that advice proved to be.
Joe put his head down, committed himself fully, and worked his ass off. And as the boss had wisely predicted, the money and success came. (And it was probably more than Joe had envisioned in his wildest 12-year-old dreams.) Throughout his teenage years, he turned his $35-a-week pool cleaning gig into a fully-fledged business, with 750 customers in his local area. After graduating from Cornell University, he returned to Queens to focus on the business and made as much as $200,000 a year at its peak. When he was just 24, ready to move on and pursue new ventures, he sold the company for $500,000.
Throughout his decade-plus at the helm, he never asked for a cent more than what he was owed. But just as the boss promised it would, the money came.