Driven Businessman, Bikram Yogi and Self-Professed Redneck — Cole Harmonson

Blogger Melissa Lombard shares her 53rd cup of coffee with our very own Cole Harmonson, in her quest to grab coffee with 260 strangers over the course of 5 years. Her original blog post can be found here.

IMG_2407-e1373406983344The Place: Thunderbird Coffee

The Cup: Cole and I share an affinity for the Americano. Seemed like a fittingly patriotic drink choice for a near Independence Day coffee meeting.

Background: Cole is one of those people who I have several connections in common with, and yet don’t really know exactly how I first learned of him. Kinda like Santa Claus. We are connected on LinkedIn and that led to me receiving his company newsletter. How many company newsletters do you have trashing out your inbox? Lots, right? Me too. How many do you read? Very few? None? Exactly! The Far West Capital newsletter is so awesome that I actually look forward to it! And although they rarely, if ever, talk about what they do, it made me like them which made me curious about what they did, so I went to their website to find out for myself. Eureka! These folks are total geniuses! I went to their website without being told to do so. Marketing brilliance!

Aside from the fantastic newsletter, once I’d heard his name from at least five connections, I decided I must meet him. I finally sent him an email after having coffee with my friend Olga Pechnenko, who emphatically told me he’s at least twice as awesome as the newsletter. OK, but those are big shoes to fill. {Seriously, who talks about a newsletter like that? It really is that great!}

What happens when a total rock star businessman gets an unsolicited email from some random stranger asking him to be a part of some wacky project and inviting him to coffee? Well, he graciously accepts. And then…buys that stranger coffee! {See how cool he is!?!} We’ll crack into his cool veneer in a moment to see what’s inside, but first, how about a few:

Common Grounds

  1. How did you make your first buck? Mowing yards. {Yikes! “In this Texas heat?” I asked. To which he replied:} I was not actually the one doing the work. I outsourced it. {Smart kid!}
  2. What’s a food you can’t live without? Coconut water. {After a bit of discussion we did conclude that this qualifies as a food – I guess.}
  3. What is your favorite way to unwind? Yoga.
  4. What was your favorite TV show as a kid? Different Strokes {to which he added his best Arnold impersonation} “What you talkin’ ’bout Willis?”
  5. What’s the best place to eat in Austin? My favorite restaurant right now is Sway.
  6. What is something you’ll regret not doing if you don’t do it? I don’t know that thing yet.
  7. What is your best feature? My tenacious nature.
  8. What is the last thing you fixed? My knee – with yoga. I try to do too much and it hurts. It’s learning how to push yourself, but not too far.
  9. If you could swap lives with someone for one day, who would you pick? Gandhi. I feel like he had this tremendous power and no money. It was power driven by people’s love. To know what that feels like, would be tremendously helpful in helping others.

Cole grew up in Lubbock, Texas, where, as he rather poetically points out, “You can see your dog running away for three days.”

After college, Cole began working at a bank in El Paso where, after some time on the job, he found a product no one was taking advantage of. He went to the president of the bank and inquired. Cole wanted to know more about utilizing the product and had ideas for doing so. The response was disappointing and went something like, “Dude, talk to me when you’ve been doing this for more than 6 minutes. I’m the Sheriff around these parts, and I need you to do more working and less thinking.” OK, so I’m paraphrasing a little. Bank presidents probably don’t call people “dude”. I think the rest of it is accurate enough.

Cole decided he’d give it a go at another bank who offered a similar product and were actually advertising it – which seemed like a step in the right direction. Wrong! Cole turned the product into a couple of deals which got the attention of the President of the Bank, who called him into the board room and said, “Did you bring in those deals?” Yes – Cole told him, waiting for an “atta boy”. “Well, we can’t do them,” was the response.

Frustrated by the two experiences, he knew he had to move along again. “I had big visions for what it could be,” Cole tells me in regard to the line of business he was trying to capitalize on. Eventually, Cole found his guy. The CEO of a bank in La Grange, TX was interested and Cole was given these parameters – 1) Don’t lose money, and 2) Make money.  Beyond that, he had the freedom to get deals done. Which he did for the next 11 years, during which time the bank went from $73 million in assets to $2 billion.

The bank was sold in 2006, and the CEO who had seen the potential in Cole and his ideas became Cole’s business partner when they summoned their courage, a few key team members and started Far West Capital. Today, the business they started completely from scratch is focused on providing a variety of accounts receivable, inventory-based and asset-based financing tools to businesses in need of some financial assistance. They serve 185 clients and will buy $600 million in debt this year – which is greater volume than they were doing at the bank when it was sold.

Clearly a successful businessman, I was curious how he got on this path. Like many entrepreneurs, it was watching the successes of his entrepreneur dad that planted the seed. Cole’s dad was a top sales executive at Xerox. The year he clinched the #1 title, he quit and started a car dealership. He eventually sold the dealership – which is still going today – and started a construction business, which he still operates. While these businesses stand out as the most successful in his dad’s collection, there is one that takes the trophy for it’s coolness factor. Cole grew up the son of the owner of the local roller skating rink. If you grew up in a time when skating rinks were the social place to be – the Facebook of our time –  I will give you a moment to let that concept sink in. Your dad OWNS the skating rink. Um, I think I’ve figured out where Cole’s coolness got it’s start.

Cole jokes that is was very Studio 54, and then paints for me an image of him standing at the door behind the red, velvet rope next to a burly bouncer pointing at his friends saying, “You – you’re in. You – come on. You – with the pig tails, come inside.” Followed by a trip to the concession stand where he uses his cool powers to score root beer, popcorn and Twizzlers for his posse. I think he was joking about all this, but I choose to linger in this child of the 80s fantasy. Who didn’t dream of such a cool life? Plus, all those hours at the rink probably gave him ample time to practice his skate moves. That’s all I really dreamt of – skating forward AND backwards without landing on my rear.  A dream I have yet to realize, need I mention.

Speaking of dreams, I asked Cole about the most significant thing that’s happened to him in the last 30 days, and he tells me that he redid his Definite Chief Aim. Does that mean anything to you? If you aren’t a student of Napoleon Hill you might be scratching your head. I happen to be finishing up Think and Grow Rich (a book I’ve started reading a half dozen times) right now, so I knew what Cole was talking about. It’s essentially a statement about the exact, specific result you are looking for, the timeframe you plan to do it in and what you will provide in exchange for your desired result. Here is a quote by Napoleon Hill regarding the importance of having such a statement:

If success depends upon power, and if power is organized effort, and if the first step in the direction of organization is a definite purpose, then one may easily see why such a purpose is essential. Until a man selects a definite purpose in life he dissipates his energies and spreads his thoughts over so many subjects and in so many different directions that they lead not to power, but to indecision and weakness. ~Napoleon Hill

Cole redid his statement recently and while he previously was focused on looking ahead one year at a time, he opted to look out even further and wrote out his end game goals and figures – an experience he says that was profoundly impactful.

An avid reader myself, I am always curious about the books successful people have read that have had big impacts on their lives. Not surprisingly, the title that pops in Cole’s head first is Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. I wanted to know how the 76-year-old book came into his life and he was happy to tell me.

Since the late 90s, Cole knew of a man named John Henry McDonald who owned a company called Austin Asset Management. Cole said, “I always admired John Henry  – how impeccable he is with his word, and what he’s been able to manifest. I’m sorry I waited so long, but one day I just called him up and asked him, “What’s your deal? What’s the secret?” John Henry replied, “If you really want to know, come to my office.”

Cole did as he was instructed. Once there, John Henry not only told him his secrets, he showed him. Cole says, “He had this book – his Mastermind Book – filled with his vision board, his goals, his net worth. He said to me, ‘This is what I do. I have a lot of people ask, and I will show anyone this book and tell them what I did. But less than 1% of the people will actually do this.’ I immediately ordered my own book and have been writing consistently in it since 2007. It was a game changer.”

As we talked further about keeping written records of our goals, Cole said, “Most people get caught up in defining what they want. It’s really about learning to enjoy the journey. It’s not about getting the thing. Success is in the struggle, not in the getting. Or as Lao Tzu says, ‘There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.’” Nice reminder.

What is something that people might find surprising about Cole? He says, “I am a total redneck. I love to bird hunt, deer hunt, go fishing – these are passions of mine. But you will also find me in the yoga room almost daily. I love reading Wayne Dyer, watching Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. I freakin’ love Oprah! There is a lot of yin and yang about me.”

Cole’s been practicing Bikram Yoga regularly for the last five years. I was curious if he noticed a change in himself since starting the practice. He tells me, “Not really a change, but more of a realization of who you are. You put on a lot of layers of ‘stuff’ over time. Yoga is a practice that cleanses you from head to toe. One thing I really like about yoga – it shows you, it’s a demonstration, every single day, that your thoughts and your feelings matter. People think ‘I want this or that’ and they don’t start at the “being” level. The “being” level allows you to be the thing before you have proof of that thing. In yoga, you have to focus on what you can do. Then you learn that you can do more than you think you can.”

“This flows into what I do in my business,” Cole says, adding, “What we talk about is how we help people unleash their potential. Yes, we loan money. But what we really do is find out, ‘What do you want in life?’, ‘Where are you trying to go?’ We have conversation that turns into ‘How can we help you get what you want?’ People want to be heard and understood. In today’s environment, especially in the financial world, there’s no time for that. We make the time and it ends up rewarding both the giver and the receiver.” Exactly! Yet another example of the power of a conversation.

We go back to the yoga topic and Cole tells me, “Being on the mat shows you where you are. It shows you your thoughts and feelings matter most and it teaches you acceptance – ‘I’m where I’m at for a reason. And it’s not a bad thing.’ Someone once told me that discipline is really just remembering what you want.

Beyond business goals, a couple items on Cole’s bucket list include a trip to South America, where he plans to trout-fish his way from the top of Patagonia all the way to Tierra del Fuego, armed with a notebook, a fly rod and a few friends for the journey. He says the trip will happen within two years.

He also wants to take his boys on a trip to Africa. A nugget that is a contender for the most surprising thing about Cole is that his two sons are 20 and 18. He hardly looks much older than that himself. He admits he did get started young which worked out great, because with two grown sons, he said he feels a bit like a kid again himself now.

I’m curious what Cole considers to be the biggest issue facing society today. He says, “There’s a burgeoning consciousness of understanding what’s happening and at the same time, I think there are people who are being left out of it. I don’t exactly know what to do about that. Except – I’m gonnna go Gandhi on you here and say – ’Be the change.’ Give love and be love. We’re on the verge of a lot of people grasping that. We really all want the same things. When you notice something negative about someone and it really bothers you, it’s because you have that thing. And you’ve got to own that.”  Damn it! #TheTruthIsn’tAlwaysPretty

Cole talks about something he’s passionate about, telling me, “The conscious capitalism movement is exciting and it started right here in Austin. We’re realizing that you can do more good right within your own company. Right here, right now. The old way was, you worked hard, made a bunch of money, joined the Country Club and gave to the March of Dimes. Now we have a new model for making positive change.”

I want to know how Cole would make his living if happiness were the national currency. Would he spend his days pursuing his hobby of reading thought leaders like Napoleon Hill? Or maybe he’d while away the hours on his yoga mat practicing asanas and becoming enlightened. Or would he trade his laptop for a fly fishing rod, throw on some waders and fish all day? No. Cole says, “I’d do what I’m doing now. We have 185 clients and I love watching them succeed and at the same time being rewarded for it. Plus you get to see your team succeed. I don’t know that there’s anything I’d rather do.”

What a wonderful way to feel. Here’s what Napoleon Hill says on the subject of doing work you love:

There is some one thing that you can do better than anyone else in the world could do it. Search until you find out what this particular line of endeavor is, make it the object of your definite chief aim and then organize all of your forces and attack it with the belief that you are going to win. In your search for the work for which you are best fitted, it will be well if you bear in mind the fact that you will most likely attain the greatest success by finding out what work you like best, for it is a well known fact that a man generally best succeeds in the particular line of endeavor into which he can throw his whole heart and soul.  ~Napoleon Hill

If given 30 seconds to make a speech to the world, Cole would have this to say, “Learn how to accept yourself where you are, while at the same time recognizing that you are the creator of your own reality and whatever you can envision is possible for you to achieve. Think about what you want – which is aligned with your highest good and the good of others – and when you do that, remember that and focus on that; that’s what comes back to you. Don’t get distracted by what’s going on right now. That’s old news. When you say, “That’s not what I want!” Remember, you brought it – you asked for it. It’s there to show you what you do want. People get stuck in “what is” and forget that you get what you focus on. Remember, discipline is just remembering what you want. Focus on that.”

Cole Harmonson has not merely found success, he created it. He set out with a definite purpose, and as he learned on his yoga mat, you have to start where you are, with what you have and accept yourself as is. When you know you want more for yourself, you set your focus on those endeavors. You find and do work you love, with and for people you love. You pour your whole heart and soul into creating the life you desire. This is the only secret to real success. Cole just happens to be one of the 1% who believed he was worthy and was willing to put in the work. The bad-ass roller skating moves? That’s just lagniappe – or for those who don’t speak Cajun – “a little something extra”.

To learn more about Cole you can find him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter. And I know you’re dying to get on the newsletter mailing list – so here’s the hook-up.

This was Cup 53 and the first cup of year 2 of this 5 year Coffee With a Stranger project. If you like it, love it and want more of it – you may want to head to Facebook and Like the page so you’ll be the first to get access to every cup from here on out.

About Melissa:

“You will be the same person in five years as you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet.” Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said that and I took it to heart.

In an attempt to not just be different, but to be better in five years, I learn life lessons from strangers by interviewing them over coffee, read something new each week and do something novel every day.

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