Today we chat with Arturo Gomez, founder of Big Game Air, a premier provider of luxury game day travel experiences for the ultimate sports fan. Earlier this year, Arturo left the Chicago-based hospitality company- Rockit Ranch Productions– that he co-founded and oversaw for two decades. Arturo’s next journey is proof that it’s never too late to Begin Anyway- even if you’ve already achieved tremendous success.
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The idea of ‘Beginning Anyway’ has been a motivator for me throughout my professional journey – focusing on swallowing uncertainty and taking a leap even if failure seems likely. Do you have a motto or daily intention that has given you that extra push?
Something that has stuck with me from a very young age was the concept of “seek and you shall find.” For me, this has been tied to a strong pursuit of finding purpose and happiness.
You’ve often referred to yourself as “the happiest morning person in the world;” How does having a strong morning ritual impact the rest of your day?
It’s been everything. Setting the tone for the day – before 6am – has enabled me to work very efficiently.
Tell us a bit about your story and your journey leading up to today. You’ve made a major career change and left a successful company you helped to found and build. What lead to your exit and decision to build something new?
My story started post-college in 1998 when I moved to Chicago from Michigan and fell in love with the hospitality business. I was extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunities I was. Over that early period my former business partners and I created some extraordinary restaurants and nightclubs that have had a lasting impact on the restaurant and bar scene in Chicago.
I think I knew about a year ago that a change in my life was coming. I’ve always had a strong entrepreneurial drive and the thought of exploring new ideas and industries was tugging at me. The defining moment for me came in January. I was doing an introspective review of my career and what I had accomplished, where I was going. I realized at that moment that it was time to embark on a new path. My pursuit of happiness has always been a driving force behind my decisions. The decision to leave Rockit Ranch Productions was entirely guided by the idea that I needed to try something new and challenge myself in different ways.
Now that you’ve had a few months of perspective, what do you miss the most? What did you find most fulfilling about your former position?
So many aspects that I loved dearly. I will always love servicing people and the idea of hospitality, as it truly makes me happy watching people enjoy themselves. I also found coaching and mentoring to be an extremely important and defining aspect of my career. Helping others achieve their career goals was very fulfilling.
On a personal level, you are someone who played an incredibly significant mentorship role in my career. You took a chance on me when my experience on paper didn’t necessarily check every box. I know you have been a significant mentor to numerous former employees. What importance have you found in identifying raw talent and in playing a mentorship role?
Anyone who desires to be a leader must be able to recruit and coach at a high level. Often, the individuals that showed the most promise were the ones that had their passions clearly visible. Taking a leap on someone that perhaps didn’t have the experience on paper, but had passion and focus was something I did frequently. To do that however, as a leader, you must have faith that you are able give this person the time, training and attention they need to be successful. Some of the greatest employees I ever had were people with little to no experience coming into their positions. Mentorship and coaching is something that makes me so incredibly happy. The concept of paying it forward, so-to-speak, is just part of who I am. I will always give time to those that need it and have a desire to make more of their lives.
Who are your mentors and how have they impacted your career?
I have a few that truly standout. For the purpose of not leaving anyone off the list, I shall keep them nameless. I’m not sure where I would be without the leadership, care and attention that these individuals gave me. In particular, the things that I have learned from them and that have helped shape who I am today are: hard work; humility; attention to detail; to always chase your dreams and your passions; and, most importantly, they were there when I needed guidance the most.
So tell us about the next major step in your career – Big Game Air. What was the impetus or inspiration for the business? What will you be offering your clientele?
They say necessity is the mother of invention. The concept came about when my wife was seven months pregnant with our first child. I wanted to attend a Big Ten football game that would be soon after she gave birth. My wife didn’t want me leaving her alone with our newborn baby overnight. So, I had to figure out a way to get to the game and return home the same day. I called my friend Todd, who I knew had a lot of aviation knowledge, and after some research and planning, we booked a private jet and boarded the plane with a group of our buddies to see the game. We arrived home 12 hours later. Everyone agreed it was a great experience, and we knew we had an exciting and unique opportunity on our hands, which set Big Game Air in motion.
As you have built Big Game Air, what lessons do you continue to apply from your previous role? Are there universal skills and principles that you have acquired in your professional career thus far that you feel can translate to any industry?
The only way that I could do this type of project is having had the experiences I did. In my former life, I was required to exercise a very complete set of skills in HR, marketing, operations, hiring/training and finance; all of which helped build this new business from idea inception to reality. The biggest take away though is that you need to focus on doing things right from the very beginning and establishing a strong company culture, policies and goals immediately.
What about the network and connections that you’ve made over two decades in Chicago? How did you focus on translating those relationships to your new venture?
Relationships are everything in life and in business. It is very important to me that in my new venture I provide something of value, something that translates to the existing network that I have.
In addition to your external network, I know that operating with a strong team around you has always been a priority of yours. What has it been like building a team from scratch at Big Game Air? Do you enjoy assembling the team and seeking skills and expertise to compliment your own?
I have always loved building things from the ground up and this was no different. I assembled an amazing group of partners and employees to launch the business. As always, it was very important to me to find people who are experts in their respective fields. This project required me to find teammates that were strong in sports marketing, technology, operations, digital marketing, and hospitality.
What else do you enjoy about building a brand and a culture from scratch? Any similarities that you see with expanding your bar/restaurant portfolio at Rockit Ranch Productions? How much is it like opening a new restaurant?
Building a new culture and brand from scratch is something we did often at Rockit Ranch, and I think we did it well. With all businesses, there are some fundamental pieces that translate across the board to any industry so, there are some similarities to building a new restaurant, but probably more differences than anything just due to the fact that it’s in an entirely different industry.
What type of growth are you envisioning with Big Game Air? You are a very high-energy person who seems to strive off of demanding, intense work. Will you need to create a similar atmosphere to feel that you are truly succeeding? Or do you feel that your understanding of professional satisfaction has shifted as you grow?
We have a 5-year outlook for Big Game Air which has all the pieces to become something great. Right now however, the team is just focused on year-one, and launching the brand successfully. The team is fully aware of the demands that a new start-up will have and everyone is prepared to put in the work. At this stage of my life I do value life balance but I also love to work hard on things that I’m passionate about. This project is currently all I’m focused on, and with that comes a lot of intensity.
What advice would you give to someone looking to make a major change in their life like you have – particularly someone who has already achieved success in their current field? Were there any individuals, books, or talks that motivated you? Any trailblazers you looked to for inspiration?
I would tell them that if they aren’t motivated, happy, or fulfilled in their current situation – professional or personal – that change is necessary. Also, don’t be afraid; but don’t ‘jump just to jump.’ Making big life changes requires a lot of thought and preparation. I read a lot, and I would say that there were a few books that I’ve recently read, including Don Miguel Ruiz’s, The Four Agreements, that had some impact on making the moves I did. I also listened to my heart, and let that be the guide for my decisions.
Did you have a fear of losing your professional or personal identity when you left your previous career? Did you have feelings, after spending nearly two decades creating and cultivating this personal and professional identity, that you were losing something significant?
When you make a dramatic change as I did, I think you have to be prepared to walk away, and in a sense never turn back. I had thought about the decision and felt very comfortable with my next moves. A conversation that I had with my father before I left my previous position also helped build confidence. He said that, “in most cases if you take someone that has been successful and strip them down to zero, they will find their way back to success because they’ve already found it once.” I firmly believe this to be true.
What are your top three tips for starting a business from the ground-up?
You must have a great idea or concept; a purpose and position for your business; and a strong plan and financials.
I love a great cocktail. Who is one person that you would like to have a drink with, get to know, and gain inspiration from? And, equally important, what are you drinking?
This is a tough question considering there are so many people that I would love to meet. If I have to pick one it would be Richard Branson. He has been a leader and game changer in a lot of industries and seems to be an extremely charismatic individual. We would be drinking some dirty vodka martinis.
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A huge thank you to Arturo for sharing his Begin Anyway story with us. Be sure to check out Big Game Air and all the amazing services that will be available late Summer 2017!