Movers and Shakers Interview with Joel Malkoff

Joel Malkoff

Tell us your name and a little about yourself.

My name is Joel Malkoff. Over the course of my 45-year career as a business executive and entrepreneur, I’ve generated more than half a billion dollars in sales. I’ve worked for large corporations, small companies, and started three businesses. My expertise is in executive management, sales, and marketing within the medical and scientific research community. Today, I serve as the general manager and vice president of a successful corporation that manufactures and sells medical and scientific research products worldwide.

I just published my debut book, Selling Ethically: A Business Parable Connecting Integrity with Profits. I chose to write a business parable because storytelling is a great way to learn and remember principles to live by. It chronicles my business-life journey: the successes and failures, ethical and unethical decisions, and years of steep challenges. I don’t consider myself a hero, but my story is portrayed as a hero’s journey, a transformative tale of life’s ups and downs.

I chose my book title, Selling Ethically, to clearly describe it as a book about selling and sales ethics rather than general business ethics. The subtitle, A Business Parable Connecting Integrity with Profits, highlights the alignment between integrity and business success. There’s a powerful and surprising link between sales ethics and profits. I’ve studied and applied business ethics for decades, and I’m passionate about showing others how ethics, when applied properly, can increase sales and profits and grow your business.


What exactly does your company do?

My company manufactures and sells medical and scientific products to researchers, including those heroically fighting COVID-19. We provide scientific testing equipment and support the research scientists around the world who are working to discover a cure and vaccine for this deadly disease.


What were the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

I’m challenged every day to make business decisions that reflect honesty and integrity—fighting the constant battle to achieve business objectives in a marketplace where unethical behavior can easily go unchecked.

By learning and practicing business ethics, such as honest selling and truthful advertising, I’ve built strong customer relationships, sold more products and services through customer referrals, and increased profit margins. By creating a trustworthy corporate image and helping employees meet the highest standards in ethical behavior, I’ve provided corporate stakeholders with long-term profits, exponential sales growth, and high market value.

One colossal challenge is educating salespeople and business owners about the real benefits of sales ethics. I’ve found that business people don’t know, or don’t internalize, the following three facts:

First, people don’t believe that business ethics will generate profits. They feel that ethical standards are an unavoidable cost of maintaining a good corporate image. Sure, businesspeople believe that a good reputation may increase sales through expensive public relations and social media campaigns, but profit generation is questionable.

Second, many people know that their business ethics and personal ethics should be the same, but they’re less diligent about ethical business practices. For instance, a person may cheat a large corporation because he or she thinks the business can afford it.

Third, from a spiritual viewpoint, people are answerable to a higher power. Your soul was brought into this world to do good. Business is the perfect, God-given testing ground to improve your ethical behavior.


What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

I wish I’d been taught to sell with integrity. The following three principles would have helped me when I started my career:

1. Be honest and have sales integrity. Your business ethics should be the same as your personal ethics; there should be no difference.

2. Conduct business with the spirit of the law in mind. Go beyond the letter of the law and provide your customers with the best solution for their needs, even if it doesn’t yield an immediate sale. Your business relationships are long term.

3. Always provide full disclosure to potential customers. Your motto should be “let the seller beware” rather than “let the buyer beware.” Transparency builds customer trust and company profits.


It also would have been beneficial to have learned these five ethical sales practices:

1. Have empathy. Truly understand the buyer’s needs and intent. A salesperson shouldn’t be self-centered and focused only on selling.

2. Be honest. Provide full disclosure of your product offerings, including possible limitations regarding the buyer’s requirements. Don’t take a hard-sell approach of partial truths, omissions, or hiding product defects.

3. Be a problem solver. Find solutions to a customer’s problems by softly probing the customer’s needs and pain points. A salesperson should not hard sell products or services with no regard for the customer’s needs and problems.

4. Act as a consultant. Be a true partner in the sales process and help your customer achieve his or her goals. A salesperson shouldn’t manipulate the buyer through fear, false scarcity, baiting and switching, slandering the competition, or other dubious selling techniques.

5. Have sales integrity. A soft-sell approach still needs to be persuasive. Your goal, as always, is to make the sale! Your code of ethics, honest actions and caring manner will save the day. A salesperson needs to sell ethically, satisfying the customer by providing the right product or service.


Who are your biggest influences and people you admire—and why?

I’ve had several excellent business mentors in my life. One of these people was my second sales manager in the medical device business, Alan Polish; he was my managerial mentor. Alan provided a wealth of hands-on experience and practical wisdom.

I’ve most grateful to the authors of the books I treasure. Their words enrich my soul and allow me to learn about myself and the world around me. My library holds millennia of knowledge and wisdom. My books let me hope and dream.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are?

First and foremost, I must thank God, to whom I owe everything. God has guided me and given me divine insight. I also want to thank my wife, Lynn, who is the reason for my success. Everything good and true in my life is because of her.


What do you see as your greatest success in life?

From a business perspective, my greatest success is my ability to grow other people’s businesses through proper selling and sales management techniques.

I’d love to know that Selling Ethically made a significant difference in the world. To know that buyers will no longer fear sellers, and sellers will no longer mislead buyers. To know that sellers will genuinely believe that ethics is “smart business.” To have people apply the golden rule of treating others as they wish to be treated—both in business and life. To have goodness and equality in the buyer-seller relationship. And to make the world a better place.

An interview with Peter G. Ruppert, Founder, and CEO of Fusion Education Group

Peter G. Ruppert

Tell us your name and a little about yourself.

My name is Peter Ruppert. I founded what is today known as the Fusion Education Group in Grand Rapids, MI in 2007. Today, I remain the CEO of the business. I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and started my career with Procter and Gamble. Later, I received my MBA, joined a consulting firm, and eventually became an entrepreneur in the consulting industry before moving into K-12 education almost 25 years ago.

Recently, I published my first book, Limitless: Nine Steps to Launch Your One Extraordinary Life. It’s targeted towards people who don’t want to “settle” or accept things as “good enough” and have dreams they want to chase, not give up on. It’s short: 150 pages filled with stories, additional resources to dig deeper, and a workbook-like format at the end of each chapter to help the reader design their limitless future.


What exactly does your company do?

Today, we own and operate 78 accredited private schools around the country under the Fusion Academy, Futures Academy, and Barnstable Academy brands. Our schools are unique, personalized private schools that provide one-to-one (one teacher, one student in each class) education for students in grades 6 through 12. Due to our small school populations, our teachers can get to know every child and provide mentoring as well as individualized instruction. Because of this personalized approach for each student, we are often able to provide life-changing results for our students.

Recently, we launched our first virtual school, Fusion Global Academy. With its on-line program, we can provide the same high-touch, highly personalized one-to-one educational program to anyone in the United States or even internationally.


What were the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?

I was always driven to be an entrepreneur and I started a few businesses early in my career that didn’t work out. Realizing that something you worked really hard on wasn’t succeeding and trying to recover from that was a huge challenge. Fortunately, I learned from others that failures can actually be good things and what’s most important is how we respond to them. I made the decision to not let such events define my future. I was fortunate to have some great mentors who helped me get through some of these tough times.


What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

I wish I had learned earlier about the power of vision-setting and writing things down. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I learned to write out a detailed, descriptive vision for my future and to set and write down specific goals on an annual and quarterly basis. That alone changed the trajectory of my life. In retrospect, the vision I cast and almost all the goals I wrote down have come true for me. Once we write things down in specifics, our mind seemingly attaches to these, and subconsciously works to move us towards these goals.

Also, I wish I had realized that even the most successful people in the world deal with self-doubt at times and often endure very challenging journeys on their way to “success.” I always thought successful people just had it all together and that I was the only one who had periodic struggles with self-doubt. Now, of course, I realize that all of us battle negative thoughts at times and it’s completely normal. Both of these concepts are covered in detail in my book. In fact, the first chapter is “Win the Battle in Your Head,” and focuses on the importance of building a positive mindset.


Who are your biggest influences and people you admire and why?

I’ve always loved learning about some of the great entrepreneurs and innovators. People like Howard Schulz at Starbucks, Steve Jobs at Apple, Walt Disney, etc. I’ve also admired many of the iconic sports coaches, like John Wooden at UCLA and Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Mark Twain once said, “Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that. But, the really great make you believe that you, too, can become great.” I love that quote because it shows what the power of great mentors and influencers can be.

Certainly, my parents were a huge influence on me in different but equally important ways. My Dad fueled my interest in entrepreneurship by loaning me the money to start my first two businesses in high school and college: a lawn mowing business and a blacktop sealing business.

Also, I did a semester-long internship for a gentleman named David Morehead when I was in college. He was a successful entrepreneur and provided great opportunities for me to learn about leading a business, but he also encouraged me to think bigger about my future. In one of our conversations, he encouraged me to try to get into Harvard Business School. At the time, I wasn’t even considering business school and never even dreamed of getting into a school of that caliber. But, that one conversation changed my perspective, helped me create new goals, and made me shoot higher. And, sure enough, four years later, I applied and was admitted. Certainly, that conversation changed my future dramatically.


What do you see as your greatest success in life?

I’m proudest that I’ve been able to be successful in more than just my career. I have a great family. My wife, Jess, and I have been happily married for over 30 years. We have four kids, Jack, Grace, Pierce, and Ben, who are each pursuing their own dreams. I’m a firm believer that success in only one area of life doesn’t mean much if other areas are unhealthy.

I’m also proud of the number of people who I’ve mentored or led over the years and the amazing successes many of them have become.

Mike Ionita Discovers Turning His Passion into A Successful Business

Mike Ionita

Some people discover their passion in school, at university, or later in life, but not Mike Ionita. Mike Ionita knew exactly what he wanted to do when he was only 3 years old. Having loved video games for as long as he can remember; from playing Nintendo as a child to beating his friends at Street Fighter II as a teenager, Mike never imagined that he would one day found and lead a video game design studio.

Mike Ionita grew up in the rainforest climate of Vancouver, British Columbia. When he wasn’t exploring captivating landscapes along the West Coast, he was playing video games, drawing, or watching cartoons. Encouraged from a young age by his parents to explore his passions and interests, Mike decided to take drawing classes, which turned into graphic design classes, and then animation classes. Mike Ionita attended the Vancouver Film School and excelled in his studies, getting hired right after graduation. While working for multiple animation studios around Vancouver, Mike started producing his own storylines and content. Enthralled by this new sense of freedom, Mike Ionita founded Crux Game Design.

Crux Game Design produces video games for clients, as well as original content exclusive to their growing online community. With their first game being downloaded over 250,000 times within the first week, Mike Ionita and Crux Game Designs show no signs of slowing down, even in the face of a pandemic.


Why did you decide to create your own business?

After years of working for other video game design studios, I began to miss the creative freedom of writing my own stories. Working my way through the ranks at other studios gave me great confidence in my abilities—I don’t think I would have founded my own business if it wasn’t for their encouragement! I’ve always wanted to push the boundaries of what was possible in my industry, and the only way I felt I was able to do that was through creating my own business. Founding Crux Video Game Design has allowed me to bring ideas I had as a child to live as an adult—it’s an incredible experience.


What keeps you motivated?

I hope to one day be able to share my passion for video games, design, and animation with my children. I have already connected with my nephew over a love of video games and animation, and it feels unbelievably special to be able to share that interest with someone you love. I look forward to one day be able to see my own children play the video games that I have created—that is what keeps me motivated. Being able to create something that brings joy to other peoples’ lives is extremely satisfying.


How do you motivate others?

I have experienced various leadership styles over the years, and the only one that has ever resonated with me is positive reinforcement. My last Creative Director used to have quarterly ‘check-ins’—or ‘peer assessments’ as she would call them. She would ask everyone to write down what they thought one another did very well, and what they thought one another needed to improve upon. Unlike other leaders I had encountered in the past, she joyfully took part in the activity. Motivating others starts with motivating yourself. She was a cheerleader for everyone, which made the entire team feel unstoppable.


Where do you get your inspiration from?

I am inspired by everything and anything. For example, when I am designing landscapes for a new game, I find inspiration in the texture of the sidewalk, the winding branches of a tree, or the vibrant neon reflections of a work vest. Instead of looking for inspiration in other people’s video games or online, I do my best to step outside of my comfort zone to look in unexpected places. If you keep your heart, mind, and eyes open, you can find inspiration in the strangest of places.


Who has been a role model to you and why?

My parents have always been role models for me. They always encouraged me to do work that fulfilled me and continued to encourage me even when I failed. Instead of deciding on a ‘best path forward’ for me and my career, they trusted that I would figure it out. Even when Crux Video Game Design was first founded, and I had issues getting the business off the ground, they never stopped believing in my ability to figure it out.


What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I trust my team to do their jobs. Micromanagement is easily one of the most toxic leadership qualities a person can possess. The irony is that when you micromanage your team, you take away their ability to excel. Nitpicking every single detail is a major de-motivator. Even as our entire team works remotely across the province, I have complete and total faith in their dedication to their work. If you work best in the evenings, work in the evenings. If you can get 8 hours of work done in 4 hours, then work 4 hours. We all require different conditions to succeed, and I remain open to them.


What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

Trust that everything is happening as it should. No matter what you believe in, ‘worry’ has no place in your life. We become so accustomed to worrying about the future, worrying about our finances, worrying about deadlines, that we stop living in the moment. Everything you experience will teach you, grow you, or nourish you if you allow it to. I do my best to stay open to what every situation brings me.


What’s one piece of advice you would give to others?

No one knows what they’re doing, so don’t worry so much. I used to think that everyone was walking around with a ‘how-to’ guide to life, but the truth is, we are all just flying by the seat of our pants. Everyone who has ever achieved greatness didn’t know what they were doing at one point or another. I am also comforted by the fact that anything I do not know; I can learn with the click of a button.


What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?

Life is one giant playground. We like to think that there are rules, directions, and guidelines, but anything you can think, you can create. From Steve Jobs to James Cameron, the world they wanted to live in didn’t exist, so they created it themselves. Every one of us has that power—even though it doesn’t always feel like it!