The Fire Starter
Family is the concrete basis of any good story that has ever been told or ever will be told. Legacy is the fabric that stitches together culture itself and is a theme that permeates all literature and media in one way or another. Whether for good or for bad; we all come from somewhere.
The Fire Starter
Family is the concrete basis of any good story that has ever been told or ever will be told. Legacy is the fabric that stitches together culture itself and is a theme that permeates all literature and media in one way or another. Whether for good or for bad; we all come from somewhere. That “somewhere” is the driving force behind the narratives we write with each step we take over the course of a lifetime. It is impossible to separate the human experience from the thematic grasp of lineage. At the core of every great story is a story of a family in one way or another. Fulfilling or subverting the expectations of family. An absence of family, the reunion of one, or the creation of a family in its entirety. Luke Skywalker cannot be Luke Skywalker without his father being Darth Vader. Hamlet is not driven to madness unless his father, the King, was slain by his uncle to acquire the throne. Cinderella cannot be Cinderella without the death of her parents and being raised by her evil aunts. Rome was built by two brothers who, in myth, were raised by wolves. Family is the foundation that all cultures and history lie upon and therefore is the essence that permeates all phases of humanity. It is also an incredibly pivotal piece in the recovery of addicts and alcoholics such as myself and naturally fueled my intrigue for this interview.
Keith Stump is the father of Brandon Stump who is the co-founder of Buckeye Recovery Network. It was a week before the writing of this profile that I sat in Brandon’s house watching Keith look on amongst friends and family as his son celebrated 10 years of continuous sobriety. Even in his older age, he is a tall and mighty man with a square jaw and broad shoulders. His hair although frosted white by his 60 years of existence is always cut high and tight. His dark blue eyes are reminiscent of a far younger man and a fitting accessory to a personality that was equally as youthful. I have always hungered for an interview with Brandon himself. That is something I have discussed with him on several occasions since the beginning of this project and has yet to materialize. The ten-year celebration was just as much an observance of Brandon’s ten years of incredible achievements as it was the time of sobriety itself. It as an amazing feat alone to stay sober of drugs and alcohol for ten years. Throw in going from a vicious addict to a globe-trotting titan of industry and you have a story that delves into unbelievable territory. Keith looked on with eyes that said it all; a man who watched his boy’s life unfurl into chaos and near death only to turn it all around and fulfill the potential that he saw the first moment he held Brandon in his arms. I walked right up to Keith on my way out of the party and scheduled an interview.
I met Keith at Charlies Chalk Dust; one of several companies that Brandon had started from nothing. He now worked from this office as a consultant for a company his two boys ran. When I would visit the building I would frequently see him hovering over an employee half his age and vehemently spouting out motivational sales techniques like a basketball coach during a timeout of the state championship game. It was the 60-year-old who was bringing the energy to the 20 and 30-year-old’s and he had a profound impact on my career. There was a time where our staff members would engage in bi-weekly training with Keith, or “Pops” as his children referred to him. A few employees and I would huddle around a conference table for an 8 am training with slouched shoulders and sunken, sleepy eyes until Pops entered the room. He would charge into the conference hall at exactly 8 am like a bull in a China Shop with perfect posture and an almost cartoonish, wide smile. His demeanor and electricity would instantly illuminate the room and in-turn we would hang on to every last word he spoke. He would utilize his 30 years of experience beginning and cultivating a wildly successful business in his native state of Ohio. He would fine-tune our abilities as communicators and as leaders. He would talk about what it takes to be successful and the importance of unrelenting resolve. I eventually began to meet with Keith on an individual basis to soak up as much as I could from a man who had proven through his accolades, that he not only talked the talk but had walked the walk over a lifetime. For as much as I believe in myself and can become lost in my own ego, Keith had a way of making me feel like I barely knew a thing at all.
I sat down with him on a Thursday morningin the same conference room where he had taught me countless lessons on how to better myself and my career. He sat with his legs crossed in a chair directly across from me with the same wide smile that seemed to be permanently embossed upon his face no matter what the situation. Keith was born in Akron Ohio and followed up that up by informing me that Akron is the “Rubber Capital of the World”. This is a logical tidbit of information to share considering he would soon tell me that his father was employed by Goodyear AeroSpace and worked on circuit boards for a living. His mother worked at a local Grocery Store. “I didn’t come from money, I didn’t come from well-to-do but I never felt like I was missing anything.” He played football, basketball, and baseball growing up but took to football as he entered high school. I asked him how the team was and he said “we were average” which surprised me because I knew for a fact that Pops couldn’t stand anything average. “I was all-conference” he quickly reassured me.
He went to college for “about two years” and admitted he was never a good student. He was studying at the University of Akron until joining a local gym seemed to have been the catalyst for changing the course of his life. It was called Scandinavian Health Spa and shortly after becoming a member, he found himself working there part-time. That quickly turned into a full-time position and his role was to sell memberships. He told me that he refused to accept “be-backs” meaning that he would do everything to “close” the deal without letting someone leave the gym empty-handed. He told me that if “anyone tells you they will be back….they won’t be back. At 19 years old I was really cutting my teeth at selling, and what I found out was that I was really good at it.” He eventually found so much success in rising through the ranks with the gym that he dropped out of school. “I am not promoting that someone does not go to college. I just think we all find our way differently.” When I asked him more questions about Scandinavian Health Spa he could still recite and remember every piece of his sales pitch down to the most finite details. 30 plus years later and he can still recite the flip charts that he memorized when he was 21. He was promoted to manager and then was subsequently shipped off to manage bigger and bigger clubs to satiate his growing hunger for sales and success.
By 25 he found himself in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania selling memberships to a gym that did not even exist yet. “We were doing a presale which means is this. We had bulldozers sitting on the side of the hill, there’s no club there. We got construction trailers with pictures. We are getting people to come in and fund the building of this club. I did that for a year. Selling people on not a club today…but there’s just some dirt and there’s going to be a beautiful club there one day. We sold tons of memberships. We were selling something that wasn’t there.” Scandinavian Health Spa doesn’t exist anymore but I most likely would have somehow ended up with a membership after the interview if it did. While Keith was in Pittsburgh his 22-year-old wife Paula was pregnant with their first-born, Brandon. As Keith put it “she had Brandon in the oven.” By the time the Scandinavian Health Spa actually was built and opened, Keith was working long hours every single day of the week. Brandon was born and he realized that Pittsburg and an unforgiving schedule was not the environment he envisioned raising a family in. He resigned with no fall back options and moved back to Akron Ohio.
“I don’t have a job. I have a new baby. I have a BMW and a boat and this and that. So that was kind of aggressive behavior but I wasn’t worried about that because I had confidence in me.” That was the thing about Keith, and his children as well. Confidence. It bellowed off of him everywhere he went. Smoke from an unrelenting fire ignited by the simple goal of being somebody. “When I am hiring somebody the only question I ask myself when interviewing them is ‘does this kid want to be somebody?’. If the answer is yes then they are hired. If no then it’s a pass.” Keith wanted to be somebody all those years ago and even when he achieved that goal he would just dream bigger.
When he was back in Ohio he didn’t know what he was going to do for work but he had a strategy. He knew he could sell. He wanted to find an industry that had the highest turn-over rate because his thinking was that if most people abandoned a job which he could hold-steady, then he would have an experiential leg up on all of his competition. He was seeking an industry that no one wanted to work in. He was running towards the burning building that everyone was galloping out of. “I wanted to go somewhere were they blow people out. Because I knew if it was tough that was where I was going to be successful.” The answer to that was selling copy machines out of the back of his station wagon for a company called Ohio Business Machines. He was being paid on straight commission with no salary and knocking on about 30 doors a day. Any money that he would make to support his expanding family was contingent on the copiers we would “schlepp” out of the back of his car. “You gotta get up every day and you have to make shit happen”. That’s exactly what he did and by the time he was 30 he had become general manager.
It was at the beginning of his 30’s that Keith realized that to “be somebody” he had to build something for himself. He begins to envision what a future would look like if he left Ohio Business Machines with several of his veteran co-workers and began his own company. On July 5th, 1995 Blue technologies was born by a few salesmen who cut their teeth for years in an industry that everyone told them they wouldn’t succeed in. A brain trust of wolves sorted out by the natural selection of an unforgiving capitalist machine. I asked him if he was in fear of attempting such a risky venture and leaving the security of his General Manager position. He chuckled like it was the stupidest question anyone has ever asked him. The fire lit on his eyes as he assured me in his deep baritone voice “The spouse had a lot more fear. I had a big family. I was confident. It wasn’t fear, it was excitement. It is always fight or flight right? I was in fight mode.” Blue Technologies started as a “few guys sitting around a phone with no money. We started building and we kept building. Selling copiers.” He was in direct competition with the prior company that gave him his start in the industry. When I asked him if that rubbed Ohio Business Machines the wrong way he smiled softly and said “absolutely. By design.”. His new company took off and quickly began to find success. Over the next 20 years, it would become a juggernaut in the industry.
At this point in the interview, we forayed more into his family life. Afterall I had been dying to have an interview with our founder Brandon Stump and I was fortunate enough to be engaged in a discussion with his father who was able to provide me insight into his son that no one else had. However, the story of Keith’s creation of Blue Technologies is the true beginning of his son’s Brandon’s story as well. As Keith spoke of building a company from scratch I could imagine Brandon growing up in a household where, by osmosis, he was absorbing tools and traits that would define him so many years later when he began to build his own empire. As Keith described his own story, my mind would frequently wander to Brandon’s story. I would imagine Keith in Pittsburg talking to his pregnant wife about sales numbers and new business opportunities late at night after a long day of selling a gym that did not yet exist. Brandon already getting business 101 training nestled in his mother’s womb. Born just in time to watch his father take a huge risk and leave his job with no fallback options accept unstoppable confidence in himself. From a young boy, Brandon bared witness to a man “shlepping” copy machines in and out of his station wagon with fire in his eyes. Watching his father reach heights that many men would equate with the end-goal of their careers and throwing it all away to begin his own company with nothing but a telephone and a couple of like-minded wolves. By the time Brandon entered his teenage years his father had built something of his own and it was a juggernaut. He did it from scratch and it all began because at 20 years old he decided he wanted to be somebody.
When Keith Speaks about Brandon his eyes light up and he hesitates in his speech more than usual. “From the time Brandon could crawl you were chasing him. Whether ten months, ten years, or thirty-five years, your just chasing him. He’s got an engine on him.” He described him as a natural risk-taker and daredevil as a child. “Wherever the out of bounds line is…Brandon is pushing that line. It’s a good thing.” When we discussed Brandon’s addiction and how hard that was to deal with prior to him achieving sobriety, Keith’s primary attribute of confidence once again shined through. “Even when he was going through that…Fighting that, he wanted to be somebody.” He had sent Brandon to treatment in California with a desire that he would finally find a solution to an addiction that had left ample wreckage in his wake in Ohio. Keith connected with a man named Richard Perlin who was helping addicts recover in California through various treatment centers he owned and operated. “Richard was a guy who I ended up trusting. He was a straight shooter and he was calling it like it is.” After several stumbles with sobriety, Brandon had finally gained traction and achieved some success. One day he called his father and told him he was going to leave his job to start a sober living called The Ohio House. “On the one hand, I was happy with where his head was at. He had a vision…a dream, and he was going to chase it. I just didn’t want that to derail him from where he was. I thought well you got to move on with life so if your going to do it, don’t look back.” Brandon never looked back and as of today, the Ohio House has helped over 2000 recovering addicts achieve nearly 1000 years of total continuous sobriety. I am apart of that statistic and write this article with nearly four years of recovery that began at The Ohio House.
Brandon began the Ohio House and as Keith would put it, it took off “like a rocket ship”. He moved his brother Ryan out to California who was beginning to believe in Brandon’s vision of the future. Ripping his brother from a cushy corporate job to help build a sober-living in Southern California. Together they flourished. Not only in the treatment industry but beyond. He began other business ventures outside of the recovery space that on their own merit became wildly successful. 6 years later Brandon and Ryan bought the treatment center once owned by Richard Perlin and named it Buckeye Recovery Network One day they called Keith and convinced him to move out West and work for them as a consultant. He sold his shares of the company that he founded and came out to help his two boys as they forged their own path in this world. When I asked what it was like working for his children he said “I think some guys egos would be too big. They would need to be ‘the guy’…I’m so blessed to have kids that get to be ‘the guy’. I think that’s what you want for your kids.”
No one ends up where they are by accident. We all come from somewhere. When I listened to the tape of my interview with Keith, I realize that I was listening to the true origin story of The Ohio House and Buckeye Recovery Network. When I first arrived at these two institutions nearly four years ago to get sober myself, I didn’t know who Brandon, Ryan, or Keith Stump were. However, I instantly felt like I was apart of a family. I realize now that the feeling I felt was not a mistake or a byproduct of my brain which was still foggy from years of drug abuse. Buckeye Recovery Network and The Ohio House were built upon the shoulders of family and more importantly, legacy. When Keith was speaking about Brandon’s struggles with behavioral issues in school at a young age he said “I did not want to squash it. I did not want to take away what made Brandon, Brandon. I did not want to put out the fire.” To me, the truth is that nothing could put out the fire because Keith had ignited it himself. In the end, all of our stories are ones of family. Buckeye Recovery Network is no different. Only Brandon Stump could become who he is because his father was who he was. The man who attacked life relentlessly and never looked back. Someone who dreamed big and fought in the trenches day in and day out to turn big dreams into realities that are now fond memories to look back upon. Rome was not built in a day and it’s the brothers who built it were not raised by sheep. They were raised by wolves.
These days you will find Keith sliding in and out of our halls, advising employees based on his lifetime of success. Sometimes will find him in the back of his son’s offices helping his children succeed with his legs crossed and a cartoonish smile glued upon his face. “You got to have big hairy, audacious goals. What’s that vision way out there? Everyone needs that. What’s your someday goal. That’s how you understand a person. What gets you up every day and propels you.” I quickly asked him what his was. He paused and looked around the room. I could see the fire in his eyes as he answered truthfully “I am living my someday goal.”
Today is going to be the best day of your life.