While many owners of a small business might opt for business casual—or even a suit—to meet with a big prospect like Whole Foods or Target, Grillo’s Pickles CEO Travis Grillo shows up in a pilling, 10-year-old jersey.
He had the garment custom-made for $300 shortly after he began selling pickles from a street cart in 2008. “Being in Boston and the Celtics being so close to where I was selling, I decided to make a pickle jersey that kind of looked like the Celtics,” he says.
Now, it’s part marketing, part good luck charm. Even though the jersey is showing its age, he still wears it to every important meeting, he says. This year, the company is on track to hit $25 million, and his pickles can be found in both of those big-name stores.
It’s not unusual for CEOs and other business leaders to have rituals and superstitions, says Dan McGinn, author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. During high-stakes events, these rituals and beliefs can provide a sense of comfort and reduce anxiety, he says.
“There’s research that shows that simply having a thing you do over and over the same way every time takes your mind off of the anxiety,” McGinn says. “Having a physical object, there can be a placebo effect in that.”
It turns out that Grillo is in good company. Several business leaders shared their own rituals, habits, and good luck charms.
Some people manage stress through deep breathing or massage. But Eric Casaburi, founder and CEO of Retro Fitness, a New Jersey-based fitness center franchise company, has a cup of chamomile tea and lies on a mat that simulates a bed of nails.
“First, it hurts. You feel pain. Then it feels hot, then it just gets numb,” he says. The ritual helps him focus. By training his brain to concentrate on something other than the pain he’s feeling, he says he’s better prepared to deal calmly with the inevitable stress at work. He’ll also use the Headspace app to meditate while he’s on the mat.
“You’re lying in this painful situation, and you try to get your mind calm. But, if you can do that, you can really garner good control over your thoughts and your emotions,” he says.
Kristin Marquet, founder and creative director of femfounder.co, a New York City business consultancy, was on vacation in Miami Beach in 2004 when she splurged on a Louis Vuitton wallet, which she used on and off over the years. “I realized that the wallet held some sort of luck after I started using it as part of my work wardrobe,” she says. “This strange little habit started in January 2016 when I attended a new business pitch for a large clothing company that needed help with publicity and branding, and I had won the account,” she says.
When she used the wallet, putting it in her bag before a big meeting or presentation, it became a touchstone. Nerves? All she had to do was pull out the wallet and it centered her, reminding her of a fun, carefree time in her life.
The sneaker sommelier
Director and producer Ivan Dudynsky, founder and chairman of snkrINC, a California-based platform for sneaker enthusiasts, wears a uniform to work: a black V-neck T-shirt, black pants, and a black sport coat or motorcycle jacket. It’s an homage to his love for Johnny Cash, but it’s also a pragmatic choice—he doesn’t want to stand out on the set.
Dudynsky is very particular about selecting his sneakers and watch based on what he’s doing that day and how he wants to express himself. Directing a fashion show for Netflix, filming high-design suits? He’ll opt for dressy Nike Adapt BBs with a Patek Philippe 5990 Chronograph. Or maybe his Travis Scott Jordan 1s and an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph is more in order. “I’d rather spend time pairing a great sneaker with a watch, than worry about what color shirt I’m wearing. I know it takes me exactly five minutes to get dressed in the morning,” he says.
The power of prayer
Before every big meeting or interview, Jo Trizila, founder of TrizCom Public Relations in Dallas, says a simple prayer—the Prayer of Jabez—to herself. “It goes, ‘Please bless me, enlarge my territory. Have your hand with me in everything I do. Keep me from evil and let me not cause pain to others. And, God granted the prayer.'”
Trizila has woven this prayer into every aspect of her personal and professional life. “For example, whenever I see the clock read a triplicate number like 3:33 p.m., I stop and say the prayer. I say it every night before bed. It reminds me that there is a larger power, and it’s okay to ask for blessings,” she says.
A husband’s gift
When Beverly Raphael’s husband, Richard, became ill, he wanted to find something that would “bind our family together after he passed on,” she says. He found a bronze statue of a Native American mother carrying her child and porcelain figurines that depicted three Native American chiefs, two facing toward one in the center, who had his hands raised. The title of the trio is “Surrender.” Richard told Beverly that the bronze statue depicted her and the chiefs represented him and their two daughters. He asked that she keep them together.
Richard died in 1998, and Beverly took over RCC Associates, a Florida-based national general contracting company, in 1998. She’s remarried, and her daughters are grown, but she still has the keepsakes together in her office and uses Richard’s day planner. “[They] always gave me a little bit of confidence, especially in the early years when I first had to take over his role as president and CEO of the company. Somehow, it just made me feel that Richard was watching over us and making sure that we were okay,” she says.