The Tao of Mike Szymczak
Lessons learned from an industry icon as he enters retirement
Some things hit you in ways you can’t predict: the sudden passing of a childhood friend, how kids react when told it’s time to move to a different city, or news that someone you care about is seriously ill. It’s that unforeseen pit in your stomach that arrests you regardless of what you were doing just moments before.
This is precisely what I felt when I learned that one of my good friends, Mike Szymczak, would retire from the industry. It was nothing short of a sucker punch to my gut.
The last time I had such a swift reaction to industry news was when the other half of the original Origaudio team, Jason Lucash, left the industry eighteen months ago. If you wish to revisit that blog, you can do so here. Candidly, if you haven’t read it, you may want to do so. It’s almost part one of a two-blog series that will conclude when this is published.
Of the two, Mike was outwardly the more passive, more chill, and quieter human. However, that public-facing stillness belies the inventive and restless soul that Mike possesses. Anyone who had the honor of working with him will immediately agree that he always seeks to make things better. Whether it’s products, packaging, operations, fulfillment, delivery, service, marketing, or adding value to ensure distributors would have every tool available to increase sales, Mike invariably explores ways to make improvements.
It's true that Jason could be described as more gregarious when it came to being the face of Origaudio – that’s just how the partnership was between two equally brilliant but ultimately different people. Take it from someone privileged enough to be there at the beginning: their relationship at Origaudio embodied the word partnership. Handing accolades to one without doing the same to the other is flat-out wrong. My point is this: if Jason was the face of Origaudio, Mike was the backbone.
When I think about the time I spent with Mike – especially in the beginning – I always smile. I recall sitting in his office on the ground floor of their building in Huntington Beach, talking about the need to move – even though they had just settled in about three months before. This conversation would repeat itself multiple times over the next four years in a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle of needing to move almost immediately after settling in due to their insane growth.
Where others would have been loaded with panic, Mike was filled with a sense of tranquility as if he understood that part of wild growth means there will be expensive growing pains. He simply faced it with a “roll up your sleeves” and figure it out mentality I’ve always tried to embody. Watching him clamly weave an operational tapestry that focused on ensuring the highest level of service during almost uncontrollable growth was a Masterclass of how to handle challenging situations. That’s the great lesson I learned from Mike – whether the times are good or whether they are challenging, take it all in stride.
That’s the Tao of Mike.
Make no mistake, Origaudio will flourish as part of HPG and under the guidance of the sharp, bright, and inventive Nick Lateur. However, before we bid Mr. Szymczck a fond adieu, we must pause for a moment and thank him for leaving the promotional products industry in far better shape than he found it.
While I’m still feeling that gut punch, I am filled with joy because I know Mike is charting his course, his way.
Thank you, Mike - for everything.