Shawn Askinosie spent over twenty years as a criminal defense attorney in Springfield, Missouri. He defended people charged with some of the worst imaginable crimes – including murders, rapes, and other violent felonies. One only had to look at his success to see that he was damn good at his profession. Askinosie, himself, knew it. He also knew that his job was slowly killing him. Literally.
There was no doubt in Askinosie’s mind – and heart – that he needed to change professions. What he didn’t know is what his next career would be – or should be. He spent years praying for guidance. His was a simple prayer: “Dear God, please give me something else to do.” One day, while driving home from a funeral, that prayer was answered. Askinosie had an epiphany – he would be a chocolate maker. That was in 2005.
There was no explaining where that revelation came from – he had zero experience in making chocolate, he didn’t cook or bake. Yet he knew he was meant to become a chocolatier. He immersed himself in learning everything he could about chocolate – not just how chocolate was made but where it came from, how it grew, its history, and its culture. Book knowledge wasn’t enough for Askinosie. Within months he was in South America meeting cocoa farmers, learning what they did with their beans after harvest, and what factors influenced finished chocolate’s flavor.
Askinosie didn’t become a successful attorney by accident. He was driven. He was determined. Importantly, he would look for key elements in cases which others didn’t see – or find important. He brought those same qualities to bear in his pursuit of making high-quality chocolate. From talks with the bean farmers, he learned that chocolate can be made directly from the bean. Doing so would make him one of the few in the United States using that method.
He not only chose the most uncommon production method, Askinosie also decided to take a unique approach to the actual business of making chocolate. He would work directly with cocoa farmers, treating them as partners – giving them the respect and dignity to match that status. Importantly, Askinosie was determined that the farmers received their fair share of the revenues.
With the production method and business model set, it was time for Askinosie to perfect his chocolate recipe. He and his wife, Caron, began grinding beans in their kitchen and learning their new craft through trial and error. They struggled with the part of the process known as tempering. It was then that something happened which some would call a coincidence – while others would say it was a “God wink”. Ed Seguine, one of the world’s leading chocolate experts was attending a candy conference in Springfield. Askinosie took full advantage of the opportunity and learned that a specific piece of equipment would solve the issue.
Askinosie started his business with $750,000 of his own money and a $1,000,000 loan. There were times when he was certain that he’d have to return to his legal profession, yet he persisted. Although he was taken advantage of more than once, he remained committed to his direct trade practices.
Today, Askinosie Chocolates is a well-established small-batch, high-quality craft chocolate company. The company’s customers, extremely loyal and enthusiastic, are perhaps better described as zealots. In 2016, Askinosie Chocolate was named to the Forbes Best Small Companies. Askinosie himself was named by O, The Oprah Magazine, as “One of 15 Guys Who Are Saving the World.” He was able to build such a uniquely successful company because Shawn Askinosie is a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands are committed to quality and high standards
By all accounts, Shawn Askinosie was a very accomplished criminal defense attorney – some would say he was wildly successful. But he wasn’t – he was suffocating in his chosen profession, at least figuratively. Askinosie is being completely honest when he says that he was going to die if he stayed in that career. He didn’t find true success until he was able to take action – until he could discover and embrace a new passion and purpose. With that, he was able to align his personal values with his career aspirations.
Shawn Askinosie remains committed to doing business in a fair and respectful manner. The cocoa farmers he does business with earn nearly 1/3 more revenue than the average farmer. Askinosie is giving and caring outside of business. He is the co-founder of Lost & Found Grief Center for children in Springfield, which offers provides free grief support services for children, young adults, and their families grieving the death of a loved one. He is a man of strong faith, is an adjunct professor at Drury University, and has been honored by his alma mater (University of Missouri) and the Specialty Food Association.
Those are the results a fearless brand, and it’s those accomplishments that define him as successful. There’s much to learn from Askinosie:
Follow your heart – Shawn Askinosie was very skilled as a lawyer – yet he was miserable. He knew a change was needed and he was open to discovering his true calling. For Askinosie, that took five years, during which time he remained persistent and patient. It’s important to follow our heart – it’s equally important to understand that discovering our passion and purpose is not something that necessarily happens immediately. Be open. Be patient.
Know what defines success – Understanding what success means to you is also important in business. Askinosie Chocolates is a small company. Traditional business thinking is that to be more successful a company must grow sales. Askinosie sees that differently. He put it this way in a Forbes interview in May of 2017: “There are many ways to grow besides scale. We can grow in net profitability, by increasing salaries and wages for the people we work with, and in the ways we impact the lives of our farmers.” “…the biggest concern is quality and whether I could maintain it at even a slightly greater scale.” Bigger isn’t always better. Bigger isn’t always the definition of success.
Be other focused – As was the case with last Friday’s Fearless Brand Jumana Abu-Hannoud, Shawn Askinosie is living proof that being ‘other focused’ is powerful. His commitment to fair and equitable treatment of the cocoa farmers, creating the Grief Center, and his efforts to share his business acumen in talks and in schools, all demonstrate how Askinosie consistently gives value to others. As Bob Burg says: “Give exceptional value. Enjoy extraordinary results.” It works – it really does.
Shawn Askinosie proves that we can shift gears, tap into our passion, discover our purpose and enjoy a new level of success and happiness. It’s a guaranteed result of building a fearless brand. Ask yourself this: “What would it look like if I followed my heart?” “What would it look like if I became a fearless brand?”