Steve Robertson – CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs

And to knock on old doors again! The door that previously would not open when you knocked may open at a later date. You never know what will happen if you knock again.

Steve Robertson is the CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs (JKCP), an organization specializing in youth-to-adult programming that turns curiosity into passion and skill.

Steve has been with the company for 18 years. In this role, his primary responsibility is to cultivate a culture that results in memories that last a lifetime, whether those memories belong to the company’s staff or its programs’ participants. Steve oversees 20-plus programs and camps ranging from cooking to sports to academics and more — and these programs bring in participants from all over the world. Steve also partners with organizations such as the University of Pennsylvania and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to manage and support their programs.

Originally from South Africa, Steve now resides near JKCP’s headquarters in Pennsylvania — though he’s often plane-hopping worldwide. Connect with Steve on LinkedIn.

Where did the idea for JKCP come from?

Our founder, Julian Krinsky, and his business partner, Adrian Castelli, were crazy entrepreneurs — crazy in a good way. They always had a focus on making sure people had a richer experience, a focus on more. So even when they started with tennis camps, there was always that aspect of “How can we do more? How can we give the students more? How can they experience more?” And that’s really how our growth began.

They soon discovered they had athletes who wanted to play some golf. Next thing, there was a golf program. It didn’t take long to notice that these athletes were smart and many of them had acute aptitudes for business. And so the business program was born.

Having a focus on helping the students experience more is how we got to where we are today. It’s a cool way to grow. We have strategic desires and goals, but the groundwork Julian and Adrian have laid over the past 40 years is still very much the DNA of who we are today. We are an organization that wants to focus on who we’re connecting with and figure out how to help our students experience more in whatever field they choose to pursue with us.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I have never had an alarm clock wake me up. I always set one, but I always beat it (maybe that’s just the competitor in me!). So I’m awake for about an hour before I get out of bed. But that hour is a productive time for me. It helps me get my head into space I need it to be. I plan. I think. I map out what I need to do today.

I have a checklist of eight to 10 things I need to get done during the day, and those become my priorities. Describing a “typical day” is difficult because we have such seasonal tasks and are involved in so many different things.

There is one thing that is consistent on a day-to-day basis, and that’s trying to bring our company culture to the forefront in terms of how we interact with our customers, how we interact with each other, and how we work. I’m intentional about regularly engaging and interacting with our team.

Obviously, a lot of my time is spent being strategic. That is an ongoing conversation. And then we have to be tactical about what today brings. But the overarching thing is that we work hard to make our culture here a reality — not only for the people who work here but for the customers.

How do you bring ideas to life?

One of the most exciting things about our company is that we have a smart, diverse group of people who are completely invested in what we do. Ideas come from all over.

As for me, I can get people to rally around an idea that I’m passionate about — almost in a Pied Piper sort of way. So when an idea comes to the forefront, I can champion that idea and rally the team around it. Then it’s up to our teams. As soon as we have something we’re excited about pursuing, we get together to determine next steps: tactics and strategies to bring the idea to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am all about the new Amazon shopping experience. I’m also all about wearable technology. I’m excited about it changing and enhancing the experience and the ability to deliver cool content to customers around the world in awesome ways. Technology is shaping us faster than we realize. It’s giving us more and more of an ability to engage with students from around the world on an ongoing basis, to tell our stories and connect with one another.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One of the things I’m really deliberate about doing is meeting new people. Whenever I travel, I always reach out to my networks to ask, “Who do you know here? Who should I have a cup of coffee with here?”
Relationships and networking are key. If nothing else, I’ve made a new friend; I’ve made a connection. Every time I meet someone new, it’s like taking a book out of a library. Some books are amazing, and you treasure them for life. Other books you read, and it’s just been a really good story. Either way, you grow through the experience.

When you knock on a door somewhere and behind it stands somebody who knows somebody, it always easier. That isn’t the motive, but that’s one of the outcomes.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would say, “Stop being scared. Don’t be fearful.” How many things that we’re nervous about or afraid of ever end up happening? While I’m in a place of fear, it just robs me of creativity and joy. It takes me out of the present.

And to knock on old doors again! The door that previously would not open when you knocked may open at a later date. You never know what will happen if you knock again.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

This is probably the hardest question in the world. There are so many things that come to mind, but I can’t think of anything that nobody else agrees with. I feel like that’s a statement that makes me sound like I know something everybody else doesn’t.

What I can say to you is that it is not appropriate to have peanut butter and chocolate together. Peanuts are acceptable, but peanut butter and chocolate together is not acceptable. People don’t usually agree with me about that.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

JKCP has a culture where everybody, including myself, is stretching and being stretched. It’s dangerous if we’re in a status quo — that means we’re going backward. Unless you’re being stretched and are in a zone that’s a little uncomfortable for you, you are never going to become the you that you really could be in this organization.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We’ve never failed; we’ve always learned. I wish that were entirely true.

We had a client with whom we were really comfortable. We were doing a good job with them. A competitor came in and made a pitch for this client, but we were so comfortable and happy with our client that we didn’t anticipate this happening.

We missed an opportunity to serve our customer well, to look at the service we were providing and ask ourselves if this was, in fact, still the service they really desired from us. I try to remember this lesson often, and I hope I will never have to learn it again because I learned it the first time.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why? 

I bought a pair of Bose headphones as a surprise gift for my wife. She is beautiful, smart, and diligent, and she works so hard. She keeps our out-of-work lives and family together, organized, and happening. A little thank-you to her, because she inspires me and gives me the ability to be who I am and is always raising my bar.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Waze. I travel so much between our campuses and various meetings that Waze is a must-have to get me where I need to be as efficiently as possible.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. I love his ability to tell stories and remain engaging as he covers so many different topics. It’s impressive how much research he puts into writing each sentence. He probably spends hours, even days, researching the information he packs into one sentence. That’s how a story should be told if you want it to impact the reader.

What is your favorite quote?

“What is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily.” — Malcolm Gladwell
As we talked above about stretching our team, I think this quote sums up that concept so perfectly.


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Steve Robertson on Twitter: @HouseOfGlencoe